Friday, 13 November 2009

TV Review: 'Collision' ITV drama triumph???

This week I have been mostly watching a new drama on ITV1. I know, crazy, isn't it? Who knew I'd ever be writing a sentence like that again? I admit I've been largely contemptuous of the output of the self-proclaimed "brighter side" (I have been known to refer to it as "the sh**er side" from time to time) since it fell under the spell of the grotesquerie known as Simon Cowell and his associated Hellspawn minions. I don't do the talent shows, the reality shows, the endless soap episodes. All that's been left has been the turgid drawn-out detective dramas and an addiction to 'The Bill' which has been killed stone-dead by the new post-watershed format which has sapped the show of its life and energy. But that's another story. ITV's just not been for me - and don't get me started to the advertising breaks everey thirty seconds. I even recently considered tuning ITV out of my snazzy new HD TV but reckoned that'd be stupid as I might, one day, miss something worth looking at. That day, it seems has come. Five of 'em, in fact.

Inevitably, ITV have found favour with me again by ripping off a format pioneered and championed by the BBC. This week ITV have been screening, at 9pm, every weekday evening, a drama 'event' called 'Collision', in the style of BBC1's 'Five Days' 'Criminal Justice' and 'Torchwood 3.' In the absence of a full new series of 'Dr Who', 'Torchwood' has easily been the best UK drama on TV this year. Easily. That may change if 'Collision' doesn't fumble the ball in its final episode later tonight (Friday). If you've not seen 'Collision' do yourself a favour and track it down on the ITV Player or whatever TV catch-up service is available to you - this is British TV drama at pretty much its contemporary best and it's worth the five hour commitment to watch something this absorbing, this classy.

'Collision' is the very best sort of car-crash television. Created by the prodigrous TV and film writer Anthony Horowitz ('Foyle's War', 'Stormbreaker', er...'Crime Traveller') and co-written by Horowitz and one Michael A Walker, this is a complex and non-linear thriller which tells of the events leading up to and the aftermath of a multi-vehicle pile-up on the A12. There are a number of fatalaties and, due to the presence of a Police car at the scene, fears that the Police may even have had some responsibility for the crash. DI John Tolin (former 'Primeval' star Douglas Henshell) is back on duty following the death of his own wife months earlier in a traffic accident which also left his teenage daughter paralkysed and in a wheelchair for life. Tolin, embroiled in an affair with his colleague SIO Ann Stallwood ('Shaun of the Dead' and 'Secret Smile' star Kate Ashfield) at the time of his wife's death, begins his investigation into the crash and is dismayed to find Smallwood is on the Police investigation team. Their frosty working relationship begins a slow thaw when Tolin's investigations into the accident reveal a few things which just don't add up; it seems that even the dead had their secrets and some of the survivors aren't telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Any drama series ultimately stands or falls on the strength of its first episode. This is where the story is set up, the characters put into place, the narrative given its momentum. Due to the poor attention span of TV audiences these days, audiences happy to sit for hours gawping at gormless karaoke singers or watching people who were vaguely famous in 1976 eatings insects in the Outback but uncomfortable with the notion of actually sitting and absorbing an intelligent story for a change, it's essential that the story is engrossing enough to draw the viewers drawn into the drama instantly, compelling to keep watching night after night. 'Collision' manages this feat admirably, despite the fact it introduces literally dozens of characters into the mix - some of them appearing for just a handful of minutes - and then throws away the rule book by telling, in numerous flashbacks, how the various characters involved in the actual crash found themselves on the A12 at the fatal moment. It's cleverly done, albeit a bit jarring for an ITV drama audience more used to the simple story-telling of a 'Midsomer Murders' or, simpler still, a soap opera. The first episode even builds up a palpable sense of dread as we slowly get to feel comfortable with the characters and prepare ourselves for the collision itself, the moment which changes things forever for all of them.

But once episode one is out of the way, ending with the crash itself - perhaps not as spectacular as we might have imaged, but powerful and dramatic and heart-in-mouth enough as it is, the series really picks up its pace and never lets the audience sit back and relax, demanding increasing attention as the episodes roll by, introducing new characters, new backstory, leaping back to characters barely referenced since the first episode, picking up oin threads hintyed at back at the start and, in some cases, gradually developing relationships and storylines. Horwitz and Walker tell their mutli-layered story deftly and with style and whilst, on occasion, some characters seem neglected for just a bit too long, their scripts are slick and sophisticated, laying on the intrigue and the mystery as the story weaves around between people-trafficking, industrial espionage, infidelity and, it seemed at first until the actual outcome was something a bit more prosaic (if a bit unlikely!!), even a bit of paedophilia. Yikes. 'Collision' has assembled an impressive and frnakly-astonishing rosta of acting talent, including faces we don't get to see much of on TV any more, old school character actors who remind us what a wealth of real talent being wasted out there as TV continues its obsession with cheap rerality tosh at the expense of good drama. So here we get, as well as Henshell and Ashield, the always-watchable Paul McGann, the brilliant Phil Davis, jan ("Juyst Good Friends" David, the edgy Dean Lennox Kelly and his brother Craig, veteran Sylvia Sims, Brian ("Get Some In!") Pettifer, Claire ("Carrie and Barry", "Dr Who") Rushbrook as well as newer faces like Leonora ("Being Human") Critchlow, Lucy ("Robin Hood") and Billie Piper lookey-likey Jo Woodcock, a real talent and a name to watch out for in the future. With a cast of this calibre and scripts of this confident quality, 'Collision' could hardly fail and, by episode four we're completely sold on the series, embroiled in the labyrithine lives of its characters and anxious to find out where it's all heading and where it will all end. Special kudos for the slap-in-the-face climax to episode four which sees one major character - and star name - come to a surprising and grisly end.

I really can't praise 'Collision' highly enough. With the BBC floundering badly this Autumn season, ITV have raised their game spectacularly and whilst much of their output is still a bit too tacky and disposable for my tastes, they're to be absolutely congratulated for freeing up five slots they'd normally have occupied with cheap tabloid documentaries or - worse - the ghastly Rrinny and Susannah - and given its audience a proper, meaty adult drama. 'Collision' has been a pretty substantial hit for the ITV Network; let's hope this is the start of something good for ITV, rather than just a flash-in-the-pan one-off cast aside in favour of the easy quick-fix of more gurning "I want this more than anything" reality show losers. TV should be about so much more - and 'Collision' shows that, even on ITV, it could yet be. Brilliant and unmissable TV.


Rik said...

Brilliant? I think not. ITV should rightly be congratulated for committing to this drama, but it was heavily contrived throughout and the idea of so much criminal activity linked by one pile up requires a suspension of disbelief if one is to get through it. Some good performances covered over the predictable characterisation.

All that said, it was indeed very watchable. This genre has never been ITV's strong point and it's good to see some original drama back on our screens.

Paul Mount said...

There was an element of contrivance in the story-telling, true, and the ending (or resolution) may have seemed a bit of a "Huh?" moment for many but I found it quite refreshing in that, in the end, it all boiled down to something fairly routine and run-of-the-mill. I probably enjoyed it so much because I dont watch many ITV drama and because, as a drama fan, it was nice to see ITV, home of so much tat, devoting a whole week to a high profile drama event. Be interesting to see where its success leads ITV or whether they'll be blinded by the ongoing success of X Factor and the far more baffling popularity of this year's Jungle thing...

Simon said...

Sorry, but I couldn't disagree with your review more. The concept was hardly original, and the likelihood of the confluence of so many characters up to no good all being involved in a motorway smash, stretched credulity to the limit. While there was some good acting from Douglas Henshall and Paul McGann, the plotlines were so heavily signposted it was a struggle to get through all five hours of it without ennui setting in! Kate Ashfield was hopelessly miscast as an uniformed chief inspector - her hairdo, like some out-of-control floormop, made her look ridiculous, while Phil Davis, normally a regular favourite of mine, seemed uncomfortable with his part. The crash itself - for which Greenlit Rights, the production company, spent huge amounts of resources creating - was wholly underwhelming, due to its heavily edited sequence shooting. I stuck with it because I run a fan site for one of the cast involved (Jan Francis)but had it not been for that, I would have given up on it after episode two. I'd give it six out of ten for effort. Simon.