Monday 22 October 2018

Bodyguard - why it's worth waiting seven days for the next episode of BBC hit

Richard Madden as David Budd and Keeley Hawes as Julia Montague in Bodyguard (Des Willie/BBC)
Richard Madden as David Budd and Keeley Hawes as Julia Montague in Bodyguard (Des Willie/BBC)

Pat Stacey

There are certain pieces of received wisdom which turn out, on closer examination, to be heavily tainted with myth. Or with bullshit, if you prefer. The choice is yours; they’re basically the same thing.

Exhibit A: “Nobody buys CDs/DVDs anymore, because everybody streams/illegally downloads these days.”

Really? Tell me, then: how come there are still whole shops that sell nothing but CDs and DVDs, and how come my nearest, extremely large Tesco store has a whole aisle given over to them?

While you’re at it, you can also add printed books and vinyl albums to the list of things that were supposedly as dead and buried as Kevin Spacey’s acting career. Until they weren’t.

Bodyguard is the biggest new drama on British television in more than a decade (BBC/World Productions/Des Willie/PA)
Bodyguard is the biggest new drama on British television in more than a decade (BBC/World Productions/Des Willie/PA)

Exhibit B: “Young people don’t watch regular television anymore, because they spend all their time on their computers and smartphones, streaming Netflix, playing games, downloading the latest Marvel blockbuster or just tooling around on social media.”

Is that so? Received wisdom, say hello to BBC1’s Bodyguard.

According to the most recent figures, 10.4m people in the UK are watching Jed Mercurio’s riveting thriller every week, making it one of the most-watched British drama series in more than a decade.

Of these, 1.2m belong to the 18-34 age group, which traditional terrestrial broadcasters, like the BBC, have been finding it fiendishly difficult to attract in recent years.

Maybe not all of them are among the 6.8m watching Bodyguard when it goes out on Sunday nights; they could be part of the 3.6m watching it later in the week on catch-up services or iPlayer.

It doesn’t make a difference either way. The point is, they’re watching. Our old friend, received wisdom, claims people in their teens and 20s or 30s are now so accustomed to the instant gratification of bingeing an entire series in a single weekend that they simply don’t have the patience to wait a full week to find out what happens next. Clearly, quite a few of them do.

Bodyguard writer Jed Mercurio (Isabel Infantes/PA)
Bodyguard writer Jed Mercurio (Isabel Infantes/PA)

But why should Bodyguard, of all series, be the one to buck the prevailing trend? The answer seems to be that the scripts are so gripping and suspenseful, once you’ve watched one episode, it’s hard not to become hooked.

Yes, you’ll find what appear to be plot holes if you’re paying attention. Why, for instance, did nobody in power run a background check on the clearly unstable David Budd (Richard Madden) before assigning him to protect Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes). And why hasn’t anyone connected Budd to his scarred old army buddy, who tried to assassinate Montague?

Knowing Mercurio’s previous form with audience misdirection in Line of Duty, however, it’s entirely possible — even highly probable — that these aren’t lapses in the writing, but deliberate omissions that will turn out to be part of a bigger conspiracy.

So far, every episode of Bodyguard has been palm-sweatingly tense. Sunday’s was a particular cracker.

Without giving anything away, in case you haven’t seen it yet, it featured one massive rug-pulling development, along with a host of other twists and turns that left you questioning the motives of virtually every character on screen.

With just two more episodes to go, it’s impossible to know who, if anyone, can be trusted. Classic Mercurio, in other words.

Bodyguard is the perfect example of a series that benefits from being parcelled out week by week. There’s so much murky plotting and counter-plotting going on, that you need a breather to take it all in, time to mull over it. Waiting seven days for the next chapter, anticipating what’s coming around the next corner, it’s part of the enjoyment.

Maybe its ratings success won’t change viewing habits overnight. But it proves there’s still an appetite for watching television the old-fashioned way.

Bodyguard continues on BBC1 next Sunday at 9pm

Read more: Bodyguard’s Jed Mercurio: Why I killed off one of my main characters

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