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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Tennant's too big for corny drama

Single Father (BBC1, Sunday)
Undercover Boss USA (C4, Sunday)

Hopefully, someone is going to make a really great television drama about grief one of these days -- one that captures the irrational, fist-pounding, window-smashing, plate-breaking, door-kicking howl of anger and anguish that is real loss and bereavement.

Hopefully, they'll make it without resorting to melodrama, corny symbolism and showy, over-the-top acting. In the meantime, we have Single Father, a four-parter written by Mick Ford that, on the evidence of the opening episode, commits all of the above sins.

Single Father has Sunday night stamped all over it. It's big and glossy and obvious, and it's got David Tennant, the biggest, glossiest, most obvious star working in British television right now. If you want to draw a couple of million more viewers than you might normally get for your drama, just hire Tennant.

He's the magic ingredient. He was the best (if you believe the fan surveys) and the most popular (just look at the ratings) Doctor Who ever. People will make a point of watching a programme -- any programme -- because it's got Tennant in it, in much the same way they used to watch anything with the late John Thaw in it.

This is both a blessing and a curse for Single Father. Tennant is a terrific actor; the trouble is he's so big, so popular that he overshadows everything he's in. In this, he's Dave Tyler, a photographer and father not to the requisite 2.4 children, but 3.4. Three of them he's made with his wife, Rita; the .4 is Lucy, Rita's daughter from a previous relationship, who harbours a simmering resentment. Deep down, she doesn't believe she's as valued as the rest.

The resentment comes bubbling to the surface after Rita dies the kind of ridiculously spectacular death you only ever see happening in TV dramas. She's cycling along when a police car comes screaming through a red light at top speed, smashing into her from behind and sending her spinning into the air.

It's horrible and hilarious at the same time. As Rita backflips in slow-motion (dying has never been more picturesque), she mouths the words "I love you."

At that instant, David, who's in the middle of a photo-shoot involving a couple of bawling infants sitting in broken eggshells (spot the metaphor!), says, "I love you, too."

What this sudden jolt of the supernatural, the psychic or whatever it's supposed to be signifies I have no idea; it's never explained, explored or even referred to. At any rate, Single Father runs along fairly predictable lines after that.

There's a scene where Dave vents his rage and pain by roaring through the night-time streets on his motorcycle -- as you do shortly after your wife has died in a traffic accident -- and, of course, the inevitable affair with his late missus's best friend, played by Suranne Jones, who's never quite escaped the shadow of Coronation Street.

Tennant, as always, is extremely watchable, but the script leaves him stumbling around in a rubble of cliches.

Undercover Boss USA was a hoot, not least because the undercover boss in question is Coby Brook, owner of restaurant chain Hooters, which trades in beer, burgers and waitresses with big baps, who sashay around in hotpants.

Assuming a clever disguise (actually, just shaving off his goatee and donning a pair of glasses), Coby posed as Scott Davies and spent a week as a working stiff in his own empire, in order to find out if the staff were being treated properly.

The upshot was that he stumbled across a guy called Jimbo, the manager of a Hooters in Texas. Jimbo is an idiot whose idea of fun is to get the waitresses to eat off plates like dogs.

Amazingly, Coby didn't sack Jimbo on the spot -- but then this IS Undercover Boss USA, which makes its British counterpart look like Panorama.

STACEY'S STARS

Single Father **

Undercover Boss USA **

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