Friday 24 November 2017

Happy to call this Town home

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The last thing you'd expect David Lynch, the man behind Twin Peaks, which remains the weirdest, most inventive, least expected drama ever to bob its head above water on television, to do is emigrate from America to Britain and start making programmes for ITV.

He hasn't, of course -- let's not stray too far into ridiculousness.

But if he did, the fruit of such an unlikely love affair might well be The Town, which is far and away the weirdest, most inventive, least expected drama ever to bob its head above the mediocre waters of ITV.

To be honest, that might not seem to be saying much. ITV is traditionally the most conservative, most risk-averse channel in Britain.

It's X Factorville. It's the home of Ant and Dec (not that there's anything wrong with them), You've Been Framed and Midsomer Murderzzzz...

It's the kind of place where, on a Wednesday night, you expect to find a mid-range, none-too-mentally-taxing drama -- probably something about vets or doctors or chiropodists -- starring someone like David Jason or Martin Clunes, both of them as solidly, boringly dependable as a brick wall.

Martin Clunes is in The Town.

For a change, far from being solidly, boringly dependable, he's outstanding.

He plays the mayor of a town called Renton. On the outside, he's an idiot; on the inside, he's got some dark secrets to hide -- and just how dark they get we'll only know over the remaining two episodes.

Everyone in Renton has dark secrets, it seems, not least the parents of Mark (played by Dubliner Andrew Scott), who both committed suicide (apparently) by overdosing on pills and booze.

It's their deaths that have drawn Mark back to his old hometown, a place he hates -- and with good reason, because it's a hellhole of gossip, grudges.

When he gets there, one of the first things he sees is an undertaker dropping his mother's corpse, which is wrapped up in a body-bag, on the ground, head first.


David Lynch himself couldn't have dreamt up a more blackly comic, bad-taste scene.

Scott, who burned up the screen as a mesmerising Moriarty in the BBC's Sherlock, does it again here.

He's such a magnetic actor you wouldn't be able to take your eyes off him if he was wrapped in a sheet.

Julia McKenzie, who played possibly the worst-ever Miss Marple (not that I'm fond of any of them), and is also someone you'd associate with mainstream ITV at its worst, is also in this.

She's terrific, too, playing Mark's grandmother, who blithely informs him that his granddad used to sleep with prostitutes.

British TV drama has been in a rut of late but The Town -- a tale of someone returning to the place they couldn't get away from fast enough, only to discover that nothing has changed and all the old, familiar ghosts are still floating around -- gives it a hefty kick up the backside.

More of this, please, ITV, and less of Martin Clunes doing the stuff he usually does.

Some things just don't export.

The American version of Danish series The Killing didn't transfer very well from Copenhagen to Seattle, despite the fact that both cities have a lot in common, chiefly rain.

The US transcription of Life on Mars forgot that it was supposed to be the fantastical story of a cop trapped in a 1970s, TV-imagined world and ended up looking just like a 70s series itself.

The Inbetweeners, American-style, doesn't work either. It's already been cancelled over there. No surprise.

It's not really an American kind of thing, frankly.

The trio of hapless heroes are too good-looking, too clean, to be convincing, while the language is not nearly as hilariously foul as we've grown to know and love from the original.

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