Saturday 16 December 2017

Last night’s TV: The Body Farm

Pretentious, self-important and a ludicrous mess, Diarmuid Doyle was not impressed with the BBC’s new drama

The Body Farm (BBC1) is carefully written and well-acted and has enough dead bodies to keep even the most bloodthirsty fan of murder dramas very happy indeed.

Unfortunately, it is also one of the most tedious hours of television I’ve seen all year, a pretentious, self-important and ludicrous mess which has to be seen to be disbelieved.

A spin off from the very popular Waking The Dead, it features Tara Fitzgerald reprising her role as forensic scientist Eve Lockhart who runs the body farm – a research facility where human decomposition can be studied – while also giving the local coppers a dig out whenever they’re flummoxed by a complicated investigation.

Which, given that Lily Allen’s da is their boss, is pretty much all the time.

There is no reference to Eve’s past, nor will any guest stars from the old show pop up here, the way most of the cast of Cheers turned up on Frasier.

The Body Farm is all about Eve. And that is its first problem.

Eve, not to beat around the bush any longer than we need to, is a ferocious pain in the arse. She thinks a lot, and her private thoughts are part of the script.

“My promise to the murderer is this”, we hear her think at one point. “I will find you, because when you stole that innocent life you unknowingly left your trail deep in a new chain of events. You left behind you that which does not belong, the man made traces of your kill, the evidence, the murder secrets”.

Then, just when you’re over that mouthful, dammit if she doesn’t go and make a promise to the victim as well.

“I will do whatever it takes to unlock the mechanism of your murder because that is where your killer is hiding from justice”.

This is gobbledegook masquerading as philosophy and unfortunately Eve doesn’t make a promise to the viewer to be part of a show that’s pacy and intelligent and full of interesting characters.

Instead The Body Room moves uneasily between all that philosophising, scenes set in the laboratory, a murder investigation featuring human body parts splattered over four walls of a flat, and a soapish sub-plot featuring a character in a coma.

The continuity announcer warned us beforehand to expect scenes that some of us might find disturbing, and The Body Farm was indeed packed with rotting bodies, castrated tsetse flies (I kid you not) and flesh flies resting on a blanket of decomposing remains.

But the most disturbing mess was the show itself. It started at 9pm, and when I looked at my watch three hours later, it was still only 9.15. Never again.

We were also warned to expect some distressing scenes in Rescue 115, RTE1’s series on the Irish Coastguard’s helicopter search and rescue service, but you’d want to be highly sensitive indeed to find anything remotely upsetting there.

It’s one of those documentaries on the Irish public service (Traffic Blues being another) which manages to make important and sometimes dangerous jobs seem very dull indeed.

For all the excitable editing and dramatic music and scenes of helicopters taking off or hovering in the sky over broken-down boats, it was a very tame affair, mainly because we got to see very little of the actual rescuing.

Winch operator Davitt Ward pulled a crew member to safety from a nuclear submarine off the west coast, but we saw only the lead-up to the rescue. Davitt’s thoughts on the matter, recorded months later, filled us in on the rest.

The rescue of a sick child from Inis Mor was covered in about a minute. An operation to pick up a sick passenger from a boat on its way to Skellig Michael failed to show us the sick passenger being picked up from the boat.

Rescue 115 promised way more than it delivered. Instead of showing, it told, breaking a cardinal rule of storytelling.

By contrast, The Road To Rehab (RTE1) was one of those documentaries on the Irish public service which made you proud of and thankful for our doctors and nurses.

Featuring the stories of several patients at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, it was a quiet testimony to the ability of people to cope with some of the worst that life can throw at them.

Last night’s episode introduced us to Hugh Butler, who was a 19-year-old student at Maynooth when he had a brain tumour removed. The operation was a success but left him with severe short-term memory loss and an eating disorder.

The memory loss means that he cannot remember that his mother Hannah died of cancer a week before he began his rehab treatment. He has to be constantly reminded by his father, Michael.

We saw one of those reminders, Michael building up to breaking the news for the thousandth time, and Hugh’s devastated face when he realised that he would never see his mother again.

There were no warnings beforehand, but that really was a distressing scene.

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