The week in TV: The Responder; Trigger Point; The Gilded Age; Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust – The Guardian

Posted By on January 30, 2022

The Responder (BBC One) | iPlayerTrigger Point (ITV) | ITV HubThe Gilded Age (Sky Atlantic)Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust (BBC Two) | IPlayer

I was rather taken aback by BBC Ones The Responder: by how good it is, how unsettling and vivid. It looks like a bog-standard edgy five-part police drama (all episodes are on iPlayer), this time set in Liverpool: the fraught corrupt cop with the marriage on the rocks; the seedy underworld; drug deals going wrong; threats; eruptions of violence The Responder has all of this, but much more besides. It is television police drama refashioned as a long, dark night of the soul.

Martin Freeman plays the titular responder (officer who responds to 999 calls), who feels hes disappearing. At first, hearing his Liverpudlian accent, you think: is this a Stephen Graham impersonation how long before it turns into a tongue-chewing mess? But it doesnt, and the effect is transformative Freeman is a different actor almost but thats not all. He gives a first-rate performance: whether being pulled into the criminality, working nights dealing with societys outcasts or offloading to his inevitable counsellor (practically TV law since The Sopranos), hes believable all the way, exposing layer after layer of melancholy, humour, fortitude, weakness, existential dread and pain.

Directed by Philip Barantini (Boiling Point), who also appears as an abusive boyfriend, and Tim Mielants (The Terror), The Responder is the first TV series written by author Tony Schumacher, who himself worked in Liverpool as a responder. This enriches the drama: theres a realistic, often humorous bounce to the dialogue, a sense of speaking human. There are also fantastic performances: Ian Hart (sporting a truly terrible Harry Enfield-style scousers wig) is alternately menacing and mischievous as a drug dealer; Rita Tushingham is heartbreaking as a dying mother; Adelayo Adedayo burns through scenes as an initially judgmental rookie cop; Emily Fairn (well, hello, Juno Temple meets Andrea Riseborough) portrays a drug addict who hallelujah! isnt just plonked there to be stereotypically doomed and pathetic.

Negatives? The Responder is overlong and at times repetitive, the ending is mangled, and some of the night-time filming is so murky, it feels like being slowly lowered into a well. For all that, this is a defiantly anti-formulaic poem to redemption: original and unmissable.

As for formulaic, there was the first episode of ITVs new six-part bomb disposal series, Trigger Point. Created by Daniel Brierley, directed by Gilles Bannier, its from the same production stable as Line of Duty, and slap me to my senses Id really been looking forward to it as a 21st-century answer to the late-70s toff-officers-and-bombs classic Danger UXB. It stars Vicky McClure as Lana, an explosives disposal (Expo) officer working alongside Joel, played by Adrian Lester, though (cue doomy spoiler hashtag!) #NotForLong. As soon as Joel starts fondly speaking of getting back with his ex, the clock is ticking on his chances of survival. Hes too lovely. Lana likes him so much. Also, Lester is a big name: sorry, mate, youre toast.

McClure and Lester are both excellent actors who could breathe naturalistic majesty into the instructions for a microwave meal. But even they struggled leading a soapy opener that was a tad heavy on jargon (trigger phones, jammers, lucky pairs of snips) and light on plot, characterisation and, for that matter, reality. Entering a council estate flat that is considered a bomb factory, would Lana, a seasoned professional, really have reached straight for the light switch? Spying an unattended van, would Joel, another expert, have nonchalantly strolled towards it?

On the plus side, there was a visceral scene involving a suicide jacket, and an explosion was rendered as a beautifully macabre symphony of ash, fire and pebbles. I hope theres more of this and less of the sense of an issue-box-ticking school play.

Over to Sky Atlantics nine-part The Gilded Age to see Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowess narrative logic (I mean, everybody enjoys olden days posh people sneering at commoners, right?) applied to late-19th-century New York.

Left penniless by her fathers death, Marian (Louisa Jacobson) arrives in New York circa 1882 to live with her aunts: Christine Baranski in the Maggie Smith-patented ultra-snob role (You belong to old New York), and Cynthia Nixon, who does little more than simper lethargically and sew samplers. Elsewhere, a black (coloured) character (Dene Benton) yearns to be a writer, and an arriviste railway tycoon couple, the Russells (Carrie Coon and Morgan Spector), are viciously humiliated as they try to enter elite New York circles.

The first episode is a clunker, though perhaps I was just imagining FOB (Fear of Bridgerton) ominously haunting every scene like an oversexed ratings-busting Netflix spectre. Peeking ahead, The Gilded Age, directed by Michael Engler, manages to be simultaneously too Downton (theres an unsuitable lawyer love interest again) and not Downton enough: the usually magnificent Baranski is too limp to be the American Violet Crawley, and the servants are so underdrawn that, a few episodes in, I was wondering whether I should ring a little bell to find out who they were. Keep watching, though: the Russells, far from being victims, turn out to be new money brutalists who dont take the snubs lying down.

On BBC Two, the gently paced but fiercely moving documentary Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust, directed by Suniti Somaiya, focused on the 2020 project, commissioned by the Prince of Wales, in which seven artists painted seven Holocaust survivors for an exhibition in the Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, ultimately destined for the Royal Collection.

The artists, including Clara Drummond and Jenny Saville, were clearly moved to be involved, but it was the survivors, all children at the time, and their testimonies that compelled. Anita Lasker-Wallfisch went to Auschwitz fully expecting to be gassed she survived by playing the cello in the womens orchestra there while Zigi Shipper initially thought the chimneys signified bakeries. Shipper and another sitter, Manfred Goldberg, knew each other from the camps, and took pleasure in their lifelong friendship. Together, they noted that even they, child survivors, were now dwindling in number. In keeping with the art project, this documentary came to be about bearing witness, remembrance, the solemn magnitude of it all.

And Just Like That (Sky Comedy) The Sex and the City follow-up has vastly improved since the series premiere disaster-fest, where panicked uber-wokeness sucked all hope into a black hole of cringe. Now, themes (love, grief, ageing) are dealt with much more sagely.

I, Sniper: The Washington Killers (Channel 4) A docuseries about the 2002 Washington sniper case in which 17 victims were randomly killed by a teenager and an army veteran (since executed). The teenage sniper, Lee Boyd Malvo, now in his 30s, speaks from prison.

Jay Blades: Learning to Read at 51(BBC One) The Repair Shop presenter grew up struggling with illiteracy and was only diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult. This lovely one-off documentary shows Blades determined to read a story to his daughter before she turns 16.

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The week in TV: The Responder; Trigger Point; The Gilded Age; Survivors: Portraits of the Holocaust - The Guardian

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