Thursday 26 April 2018

Last night’s TV: Sirens

Diarmuid Doyle asks can a witty, well-written blog make the transition to good TV?

Sirens is about the lives and jobs of a three-man ambulance team, but that’s an almost irrelevant fact, because it gives no sense of the excitement and trauma of working in such a stressful job.

Sirens is set in Leeds, but that’s an almost irrelevant point because it has no sense of place – events could be happening In Limerick, Liverpool or Lourdes.

Sirens started life as a witty and well-written blog, but that’s irrelevant too because by the time it turned up as a comedy drama on Channel 4 last night, it had all the energy and most of the humour sucked out of it.

It follows in a long line of British workplace dramas which suggest that behind the staid public image of the profession in question lie workplaces of fun and debauchery, populated by free-wheeling funlovers who really shouldn’t be left in charge of your children (Teachers), your health (No Angels) or your computers (The IT Crowd).

It could be fun, but suffers from a several serious problems, including three unlikeable main characters, an inordinately long-running time (an hour is way too much for such a slight premise) and many bad jokes about sex, the fall-back position for British comedy writers who are finding it hard to make their work interesting.

It starts promisingly enough. Our three heroes, Stuart, Rashid and Ashley, are called to a traffic accident, where they find the dying body of a young woman –“ she looks like a slightly older Miley Cyrus”, Stuart says - underneath an overturned car.

Her body is smashed up, which gives Stuart the opportunity, against all the regulations, to give her an open heart massage, and bring her back to life.

So far so Grey’s Anatomy, but it all starts to go downhill rapidly when the three are sent to a counsellor to deal with their trauma. What they will experience over the coming days, they find out, is euphoria, followed by heightened sexual awareness, and then a terrible depression. (The episode was called “Up, Horny, Down”).

Ashley and Rashid surrender to all those feelings – especially the second one - with predictably unfunny results. Stuart decides to fight the inevitable and by the end becomes a slightly more rounded character, especially after he finds out the woman he thought he’d saved had died less than 30 minutes later.

None of this is teased out with any intelligence at all. Stuart, Rashid and Ashley are little more than caricatures, laddish, lecherous and loud, Loaded magazine brought to loutish life.

The female characters are uniformly weak and chosen for their ability to look sexy (the counsellor), sluttish (Rashid’s one-night stand), or to behave like a harridan (their boss).

The one female with potential, a policewoman friend of Stuart’s, spends the whole episode wondering why nobody wants to have sex with her and is persuaded that they only way to achieve nirvana is to don a short skirt and a sexy top and go for it.

You’d hesitate to call the whole thing misogynistic were it not for one scene in which Stuart sees a domestic violence victim in the A & E unit. “I bet she’s really fit under those bruises”, he says. I’m still trying to figure that joke out. It has no relevance to the plot and is inconsistent with what we know about Stuart’s character (he’s a clown and an idiot, but he doesn’t seem particularly nasty).

Maybe misogyny’s a bit unfair. Perhaps the joke appeared because Sirens is a mess, caught between the need to become the Teachers of its time and a desire to be serious drama. Whatever the reason, it fails on all counts.

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