Enough plotlines to power several seasons of The West Wing: BBC1's Roadkill reviewed

24 October 2020

9:00 AM

24 October 2020

9:00 AM


BBC1, Sundays

Out of Her Mind

BBC2, Tuesdays; Thursdays in Northern Ireland

Like many a political thriller before it, BBC1’s Roadkill began with a politician emerging into the daylight to face a bank of clicking cameras and bellowing journalists. In this case, the politician was Peter Laurence (Hugh Laurie), the Tory minister for transport, who’d just won a libel case against a newspaper that had accused him of using his cabinet position for personal profit. Exactly what he’s supposed to have done, we don’t yet know — although it does seem pretty clear that whatever it was, he did it. Certainly his own lawyer thinks so, as does the journalist who wrote the story but had to retract it in court when she couldn’t fully stand it up.

As it turned out, however, the nature of Laurence’s crime is only one of many things we don’t yet know — because despite Roadkill being a mere four-parter, Sunday’s episode set up enough plotlines to power several seasons of The West Wing. No sooner had Laurence cleared his name, for example, than he discovered that he might have a daughter from his ‘Jack the lad’ years who’s now in a privatised prison where a riot was about to break out. Meanwhile a daughter he is aware of was photographed by the press snorting cocaine in a night club; his closest adviser is feeding information to the prime minister’s closest adviser (when not having sex with her); the journalist and a member of his legal team have started a relationship and maybe formed an alliance against him; and the PM has reneged on a promise to make him foreign secretary, instead joining the long list of people apparently out to get him. (Others I haven’t mentioned include his driver, a fellow inmate of his newly discovered daughter and a waitress called Margaret.) By the end, in fact, so much had semi–happened that the most compelling reason to watch future episodes might well be to see how on earth the programme can sort everything out from here.

Roadkill is written by that scourge of the establishment Sir David Hare, who’s said that it was inspired by his realisation (perhaps rather belated) that ‘by and large the electorate vote Conservative’. As a result, he wanted to explore ‘what is it about Conservatism that makes it so attractive?’ Unfortunately, the answer so far to this promising-sounding question is a firm and disappointingly predictable ‘search me’. No Tory on view here can be trusted for a moment — except to act out of greed and self-interest. All are obsessed with privatisation, which receives its customary Hare kicking: not just in the prison subplot, but also in the hints we’ve had that plans are under way to flog off the NHS to American plutocrats. Above all, and in spite of Hugh Laurie’s sterling efforts to imbue him with some charm, Laurence himself isn’t much more nuanced than Alan B’stard in the New Statesman. After celebrating his court victory by having a cosy night in with his mistress, he greeted the news of the prison riot with the words: ‘Let’s hope there are injuries — better still, fatalities.’

And of course there’s a further problem not of Hare’s making: thanks to Covid, a drama that was obviously intended as a state-of-the-nation piece now bears no resemblance to the state of the nation.

Out of Her Mind is a strange new sitcom written by and starring Sara Pascoe, who we first see roller-skating towards us wearing a garish leotard in a warehouse. ‘Hello,’ she says, ‘my name is Sara Pascoe and I’m going to destroy your faith in love.’

What this means in practice is that she plays a version of herself who repeatedly tells everybody around her — from a food-shop worker to her engaged sister — that human beings are not designed for monogamy. In between the dramatised scenes, we return regularly to the warehouse for little lectures on such things as the central role of hormones in creating the illusion of love: lectures that aren’t entirely free of the embarrassment that comes when an autodidact mistakenly believes he or she is a brilliant original thinker.

We also get plenty of meta reflections on what we’re watching. ‘The problem with being the main character is that I’m supposed to be likeable,’ Pascoe lamented halfway through, anticipating if not quite neutralising one possible objection to the show. A token black character complained about being a token black character. ‘Sara, shut up. Stop finding yourself so fascinating,’ snapped her fictional mother (Juliet Stevenson, weirdly) — although whether that was deliberately meta, I’m really not sure.

Amid all this, what’s strikingly absent is anything much in the way of laughs — not surprisingly given that Out of My Mindis one of those would-be ‘brave’ sitcoms that contains almost no jokes.

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