herald

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Cops and sobbers

FRAUD SQUAD (ITV) THE MERITS OF FERRETS (C4)

The scary voice speaks of "thousands of victims across Britain." "The most vulnerable," says the over emphatic voice-over artist, "are the prime target." He isn't lying. Minutes in to ITV's Fraud Squad documentary series, it becomes clear that the people of Britain really are being targeted ... by roving bands of true-crime documentary makers eager for a salacious televisual tear-jerker.

"Now pet," I imagine they said to a middle-aged pensioner who's been defrauded of her savings by a criminal call-centre selling fake stocks and shares. "We'd like you to feed your horse in melancholy fashion as the sun goes down and then we'd like you to sit in this chair and look out the window and sigh while Dennis plays a sad chord on his synthesiser."



Snappy

This is not to say that individual stories of pensioners and retirees that have been conned aren't affecting and deserving of being heard.

"You've been very patient with me," says one old man to a special investigator. He's lost his life-savings on a fake investment and it's a genuinely heart-breaking moment. It's just that these instances are undermined by a cops-versus-robbers narrative that seems mainly designed to thrill, tantalise and terrify with snappy editing, scary music and declarative voiceovers.

The real life cop squad plays along with this. They're tough-talking, efficient and well-meaning pros ("To catch a deviant you've got to be a deviant," says one of them solemnly). Their only dramatic shortcoming is that they do not speak cliche as fluently as the voice-over man. "They will have a Christmas to remember," says the voice-over man, machismo dripping from his voice as he announces the felons will be arrested during the holiday season.

"The final piece of the jigsaw has fallen into place," he says later and he's not talking about a literal jigsaw.

I picture him sitting in the vocal booth chewing a toothpick, wearing sunglasses and carrying his microphone in a shoulder holster.

The baddies are a similarly cliched group of goons. Led by a Nigerian fraudster, they're, for the most part, British dole-scrounging sociopaths who've spent the past few years posting photos of themselves on Facebook basking on tropical beaches, engaging in celebratory toasts and sitting in expensive-looking sports cars (presumably all of these pictures are captioned: "ill-gotten gains").

This passion for party photography has clearly distracted these horrible people from keeping the police at bay, and as the investigation gains pace and the noose tightens around them, it is entertaining to watch. All in all, however, the entertainment value is undermined by the hyperbole.



Traumatised

The general implication is that we live in a lawless age and that it's only a matter of time before all of us are being filmed staring sadly out the window by a camera crew on union rates.

Luckily I'd taken an antidote to this worldview earlier in the day in the form of Channel 4's The Merits of Ferrets, a short documentary about three friends who run a sanctuary for traumatised ferrets.

Kelly, a Falklands veteran who suffers from post-traumatic shock syndrome, has recently had a gender re-assignment surgery.

David, a softly spoken young IT professional, had spent his life being "bullied by gangs of kids every single day physically, mentally, and any way you can think of" until he was brought under the wing of straight-talking middle-aged Maria. Maria herself seems to feel a compulsion to care for ferrets and humans alike.

Over half an hour, the documentary observes the trio bickering, caring for one another and being swarmed over by furry, bright-eyed question marks.

By the end of the evening, it's nice to know that for every depressing tale of ferrety fraudsters, there's a gentler story of ferrety ferrets and thousands of examples of people pulling together and being nice.

Fraud Squad HHHII

The Merits of Ferrets HHHHI

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