Why UK Television needs more dramas like The Bridge

20120519-182558.jpgAs the latest Scandinavian drama sensation, The Bridge, comes to an end tonight on BBC4, what’s struck me most about the programme is that we need more shows like this in the UK. And now I’ll explain why.

For me, there are two main elements to The Bridge that mark it out as being different to much of the UK drama output.

1) The main female character is completely unfeminine
From the very first episode, when the Swedish detective Saga Noren refuses to let an ambulance containing a patient due for an urgent transplant across the titular bridge, she’s marked out as behaving in a very masculine way.

Saga picks up men in bars and has one-night stands, while her male Danish colleague is portrayed as the ‘sensitive’ one.

That’s not to say that strong, female characters don’t exist in UK dramas – the ITV cop show Scott & Bailey has three, including the eponymous S&B’s boss Jill – but they’re few and far between.

In fact, with The Killing, Borgen and now The Bridge, Scandinavia is leading the way in this regard, with possibly Claire Danes’ Carrie in Homeland making up the list.

2) My second point does relate to the first slightly. Part of Saga’s character is driven by her autism – probably Asperger’s – a fact that’s never explicitly acknowledged. And for me, this is a hugely brave and impressive thing to do in a drama.

To give a main character a medical condition to which you never actually refer and deliberately not make it the thrust of the storyline is rarely done.

A disability is normally the reason for a show, not a side issue. If more writers wrote this sort of thing into their scripts, it would help to break down the stigma about disabilities and illnesses that persist across much of society.

In the meantime, enjoy it while you can.

When TV does get social issues right

John Simm as Tom in ExileThis week saw the transmission of the three-part drama on the BBC called Exile. It was an excellent piece that featured superb acting from John Simm, Olivia Colman (who you’ll know from Peep Show and Rev) and the ever-brilliant Jim Broadbent.

The BBC’s description of the programme is thus: ‘Psychological thriller that tells a story of prodigal redemption, as a son returns to his hometown to reconnect with his father and learn the truth about what happened between them years before.’

What made this drama different was the portrayal of social issues, in this case Alzheimer’s and the burden of caring for a loved one.

This drama was ostensibly about a father/son relationship, but the treatment of Jim Broadbent’s character’s Alzheimer’s was truly heartening to see and his performance, in particular, was mesmerising.

In addition, Olivia Colman’s lot as a put-upon single carer was a matter-of-fact part of the plot, rather than the reason for the entire drama.

Even down to the small things, such as the mention of Carer’s Allowance and the way Power of Attorney is decided, made it seem very real.

The distinction here is a fine one, but normally a disability or ‘social issue’ is the fundamental building block of a plot, but with Exile, that wasn’t the case. For that reason, along with the fine writing, acting and directing, we should applaud Exile and the BBC for commissioning it.

David Tennant saturation…

david_tennantYou just might have noticed that there are a couple of Doctor Who episodes showing on BBC1 during this festive period.

What’s more, they are the last appearances as the Doctor by David Tennant – a role he has played for the past four years.

It’s generally accepted that Tennant has played a blinder as the time-travelling Gallifreyan, something no-one thought possible when he took over from Christopher Eccleston, back in 2005.

I’m a big fan and have already watched the Christmas Day episode and am looking forward to the final throw of Tennant’s (and Russell T Davies’) dice on New Year’s Day.

What I do object to, though, is the utter Doctor Who – and of David Tennant, in particular – saturation across the BBC in the last couple of weeks.

He alone is apparently making 75 appearances on the BBC over Christmas and New Year.

I’ve seen him presenting Never Mind the Buzzcocks, as a panellist on QI and a guest on Alan Carr’s Chatty Man. I’ve also heard him on radio being interviewed by Kirsty Young for Desert Island Discs, co-presenting the Jonathan Ross Saturday morning R2 slot with Catherine Tate, interviewing Dr Who collaborator Russell T Davies on R2 for a show called Who on Who and at least one other appearance I can’t remember.

Surely, this is total overkill? Most of us understand the need to plug important shows, but there’s a limit to the amount of exposure one show/man can expect.

Worst of all, it doesn’t even seem to have worked that well. Christmas Day viewing figures showed that, although 10 million people tuned in to see Tennant in action, it was only the 3rd most watched programme behind EastEnders and the Royle Family, and down on both of the previous two years’ audiences.

The Tennant exposure is not the first time that the BBC has been accused of overfilling schedules this year. When U2 released their new album back in February, the BBC came in for flak for heavily plugging the launch of No Line On The Horizon on Radio 1, 2, 4 and BBC2.

On the one hand, this shows how popular the BBC is and how many external outlets desperately want to be linked to its important shows, but it also gives weight to those naysayers who are trying to reduce the BBC’s power and influence.

Let’s just hope the New Year’s Day episode of Doctor Who does well, because otherwise poor David Tennant’s efforts will be sorely in vain.