Damien Love’s pick of the week
Nabhaan Rizwan in Informer – even better than Bodyguard
It’s been a few weeks since it ended, but I’m still a little baffled over why Bodyguard became quite such a phenomenon. I enjoyed Jed Mercurio’s thriller, but I didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much as a lot of people, or find myself able to take it anywhere near as seriously.
It might sound counterintuitive, but much of the reason for this was the show’s utter lack of a sense of humour. Not every drama has to verge on comedy
to succeed, of course, but a core of wry humour runs through all the greatest dramatic writing, from Shakespeare to Samuel Beckett to The Sopranos.
One of the best series on TV at the moment, Black Earth Rising, deals in serious, profoundly horrific stuff, but a sharp, odd, absurd, gallows tone flickers constantly, like a candle in the dark.
The Informer, a six-part series written by Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani, illustrates the point perfectly. A thriller that deals in the same topical, potentially controversial subject matter as Bodyguard – a counter-terrorism police unit, and the grey areas they enter and dubious tactics they employ – it’s a serious and considered piece of work.
Yet the dialogue is written and performed with a deftness and lightness of touch that makes the whole thing come alive and breathe.
Characters are almost constantly cracking gags about their situation, but they don’t come across as jokers; they come across as real human beings. As a result, the dangers around them feel real, too. Compared with this, the stern-jawed Bodyguard feels like a Gerry Anderson production.
We’re in a decent spell of British TV drama, but The Informer’s first episode stands out as one of the strongest of the year, and introduces an actor we will surely see a lot of in years to come, Nabhaan Rizwan, who plays Raza, the reluctant informer of the title.
We meet him on his home patch, east London, a smart young guy going about his day: working; flat-hunting; picking up his kid brother from school; getting ready for a night out.
These early minutes flow effortlessly, yet have more texture and pointed attitude than many entire series, touching on everything from the gentrification of the city, to unconscious racism, to the way Raza cannily uses stereotyping as a tool. (Amid a welter of great details is the way he customises his brother’s school blazer as a suit jacket for his night out.)
Unfortunately for Raza, his clubbing ends in police cells, arrested for possession.
Here, by unfortunate coincidence, he falls under the gaze of Gabe (the magnificent Paddy Considine, on quite tremendous form), a counter-terror cop looking to “recruit” – ie, coerce
– a new British-Pakistani informer to help track rumours of an Islamist cell possibly plotting a bombing. Meanwhile, we catch glimpses of Gabe’s own experiences undercover among a right wing group, and the effect it has had on him.
Constantly wrong-footing, always believable, packed with incident, hardedged and written for a reason, it’s a fantastic opening.
If you flip to BBC Four straight after The Informer, another notable, entirely different kind of series begins, There She Goes, with David Tennant and Jessica Hynes as Simon and Emily, whose nine-year-old daughter Rosie (Miley Locke) has a severe learning disability.
The script flashes back and forth across a decade, from the present, to when the couple first grew concerned about how their baby was developing. Based on comedy writer Shaun Pye’s own experiences, it’s sitcom on top, but candid and sometimes almost painfully tender beneath the skin.
Informer Tuesday, 9pm, BBC One There She Goes Tuesday, 10pm, BBC Four
Miley Locke in There She Goes