Mic Wright’s Remotely Furious: Line Of Duty And W1A
IT’S over a week since Line of Duty came to its sometimes thrilling, sometimes galling conclusion and even now the face of Lindsey Denton as the cell door closed keeps drifting onto the screen of the busted CRT in my mind’s eye. The second series of Jed Mercurio’s show about bent cops and the marginally less bent cops who set out to catch them was a thing of beauty. Ungrateful moaning whiners – I speak as I find – have taken to comment sections to wail that the finale was unsatisfying and that using the classic “what happened next” captions to bring it to a close was cheap. They’re spoiled. Episode 5 was, in some ways, the cataclysmic moment of the series, with Episode 6 acting as a teeth chattering comedown.
If Line Of Duty had featured sullen Swedes and a more refined selection of knitwear, The Guardian would have commissioned a ream of pieces on its brilliance rather than an excellent but neglected series blog and Paul Mason harrumphing about the ending. And if, the home of Scandi Crime obsession and Wire zealotry didn’t give the series or Mercurio enough plaudits, the BBC is also conspiring to bugger up its success by failing to quickly commission Season 3 and get more Mecurio projects on the slate. Instead, he’s in the warm embrace of Sky – a new medical drama is on the horizon – and Line of Duty 3 is in the to-do list of whoever the BBC decides will be the next BBC2 controller.
Presumably the corporation will be after people who haven’t seen its new masochistic comedy, W1a, which presents its staff as buzzword-babbling, incompetent wonks with all the creativity of a beige paint chart. Obviously commissioned to show that the Beeb has a sense of humour about itself – one scene in the first episode featured Salman Rusdie and boiled egg head and human cost centre Alan Yentob being discovered arm-wrestling – it just feels too on the nose. It’s veering too close to ‘docudrama about horrible narcissists’ than ‘light and funny comedy about national treasure’.
The sprinkling of famous names playing marginally skewed versions of themselves feels tepid too. Ever since Ricky Gervais took the gimmick to extreme lengths in Extras and Life’s Too Short, spurred on by his love of the technique in Curb Your Enthusiasm, it’s not surprising or interesting. Here’s Clare Balding basically being Clare Balding, there’s Carol Vordermann playing the part of herself less convincingly than she used to pretend to harbour any sexual attraction for Richard Whitely: we get it – you have these people’s phone numbers. And while High Bonneville as the put-upon Ian Fletcher and Jessica Hynes as Siobhan Clarke, the human embodiment of all that is vacuous and banally evil about PR, are still great, they are surrounded by poor photocopies of the characters they butted heads with in the Olympics satire, 2012.
The biggest problem with W1a though is that it just isn’t as funny as 2012. While insiders can nudge each other in the ribs at the in-jokes and see it as a kind of media equivalent of Spinal Tap, the general viewer is more likely to conclude that yes, the BBC, latterly in the press for really ripping out thousands of pounds of carpets for no good reason, is beset with muppet-mouthed managers spewing inanity. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that Paul Dacre had commissioned the show and got Quentin Letts to executive produce. Is the BBC – the same BBC that plays home to Doctor Who, Sherlock and the aforementioned Line of Duty – really comfortable with implying that it’s a hive of horrendous idiocy and nothing more? Execs really MUST be that stupid.