To watch British daytime television for any length of time is to stare, petrified, at the grinning death’s head of your own mortality.
BC1’s mid-morning and early afternoon schedule is a diet of pablum for the hard of chewing, force-fed through a funnelled tube: Homes under the Hammer. Wanted Down Under. Bargain Hunt. Escape to the Country. Money for Nothing.
The sole purpose of these programmes seems to be to hasten older viewers, who are already fully aware they’re nearer the end of life’s travelator than the beginning, to the grave by boring them to death.
ITV4 is even worse. As if daily reruns of The Saint, The Sweeney, The Professionals, Kojak and Quincy aren’t enough to depress people who remember when most of those series were new to television, the adverts that punctuate them will definitely finish the job.
There are ads for life insurance, life assurance, stair lifts, walk-in baths, sit-down showers, solicitors specialising in compo claims (presumably for when your stair lift attains full sentience and flings you through an upstairs window), will-making services and funeral parlours.
All human death, disease and decrepitude is covered.
This commercialised ghoulishness reached its nadir a few years ago when Michael Parkinson, the silver-haired doyen of chat shows, took on the role of nattily-dressed crypt keeper in a series of ads for an insurance company.
Buy this life policy, Parky would say, and you’ll get “a free Parker pen”. Lovely! Your life’s worth measured on a line drawn with an inexpensive ballpoint. It couldn’t have been any more tacky and morbid if Parky had proffered a quill pen dipped in an inkwell filled with blood.
It’s the afternoon schedule, not the late-night one, that deserves the label “graveyard slot”. Only a lunatic would think it was a good idea to waste quality drama by putting it out at, for example, 2.15pm.
Take a bow, then, the magnificent madman called Jimmy McGovern. For 10 years now McGovern, creator of primetime hits Cracker, The Lakes and The Street, has been flying the flag not just for single dramas — or plays, as they used to be called back in the day — but for daytime drama, too.
McGovern is the producer and story editor of anthology series Moving On, which returned yesterday for its 11th series. As always, it consists of five standalone dramas stripped across the weekday afternoons.
The BBC hasn’t exactly been neglecting original daytime drama series, but they tend to be lightweight crime hokum like Father Brown or Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators.
Moving On is more serious, thoughtful and sometimes issue-driven fare. As the title implies, it focuses on characters who have reached a significant juncture in their lives.
Yesterday’s opener, ‘Time Out’, written by Dave Kirby, starred Tom McKay as Joe, a taxi driver and former champion swimmer who’s released from prison on licence after serving five months for an assault he said he didn’t commit.
Interestingly, Joe’s innocence or guilt is never confirmed. Like the woman he meets at a swimming pool and falls in love with, single mother Lisa (Angel Coulby), it’s left up to us whether or not we accept him at his word. It adds a little extra frisson to a crisp, 45-minute tale that has plenty of tension to begin with.
Joe has been fitted with an electronic ankle tag and is subject to a three-month home curfew from 7pm to 7am. Should he break it, he’ll be sent straight back to prison to complete his sentence.
He’s afraid to reveal this to Lisa and her young son, for fear they’ll reject him, which only puts him at further risk of landing behind bars again.
To be honest, writer Kirby fluffed the ending slightly with a rather unbelievable melodramatic turn that didn’t add much. Still, Moving On is a reminder that not everything interesting occurs after 9pm.
Moving on continues on BBC1 at 2.15pm on Wednesday, March 4.