Toby Jones is one of Britain’s finest actors and over the past few years he’s starred in some of the very best tv comedy and drama yet made. I love him to death for his role in Detectorists alone and for that amazingly touching and funny show he gets a lifetime pass from me, but this is the very first time he’s put pen to paper and written something himself and so I had no idea going in if it was going to be enjoyable or not.
Despite how the press have largely publicised it the series isn’t only Jones’ work though, as it was created and co-written by Tim Crouch, an award winning playwright with this being his first tv series as well. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it either, for one thing it’s definitely been mis-sold as a comedy as it has a very serious and dramatic edge to it, and only a couple of scenes seem to be intentionally funny. Tackling the themes of Brexit and asylum seekers it’s quite a bleak work, in the opening few minutes a dead body is discovered on the beach and many of the characters are deliberately unappealing.
Jones is very strong in the lead role unsurprisingly, he once again proves why he deserves so much acclaim, playing a pair of twins with one of them, Barry, living in Australia and only communicating with his brother Pete via Skype. Pete bears a lot in common with Lance, the role Jones played in Detectorists, he’s a beaten down and lonely individual struggling with life, but he lacks Lance’s caustic wit and sense of purpose, as he travels through life with people taking advantage of him and never getting what he wants. A coach driver who seems to spend his existence ferrying around the elderly, in this first episode he takes a group from Bognor Regis to France and back, and seems exhausted by the whole procedure.
That’s understandable though given that his co-driver Squeaky Dave (Danny Kirrane) is an irritating twat, a coarse type who trades in sex jokes and singing racist songs (in this case a tackily reworded version of Frère Jacques) and responds to the discovery of the dead asylum seeker with “the season’s started late” incredibly depressingly. Another colleague called Lech is clearly homeless and though he seems friendly when Pete asks for his help he instantly spits out “No speak English”, and Pete’s daughter Kayla (Erin Kellyman) doesn’t seem to care for him that much either and his pleas for her to visit his dementia suffering mother appear to frustrate her, she does so but then doesn’t stick around when said character is found in a confused state.
So yeah, it’s fairly desolate material, though are a couple of lighter moments. Burger van owner Fran (Claire Rushbrook) clearly fancies Pete, the pensioners on the coach trip get excited about their chance to buy cheap “Booze and Fags” in France and a speeded up sequence where they enter the supermarket is amusing, while Kayla’s reaction to a job offer from Fran made me laugh. But that’s about it, and the rest of the episode centres around the various character’s reactions and responses to their lot in life, and at least in this opening half hour it’s a little difficult to know what Pete’s stance is when it comes to asylum seekers, when he discovers the body on the beach he backs away without reporting it, when a man tries to get on the coach in France he makes a throwaway comment and then looks away, and the discovery of a stowaway on his coach leaves him in shock and having what seems to be a panic attack.
This is something which is definitely an issue with the show as it needs a sympathetic response to the terrible situations which occur and right now it isn’t giving one. I imagine that will change over the coming episodes, or at least a more nuanced take will be given at the very least, but as it’s lacking such a thing right now it’s difficult to be engaged by the show, despite it being beautifully directed and containing a lot of concepts and themes which deserve to be explored in detail given the state of the world right now.
You can watch the show on iPlayer by clicking here.