Last night saw the beginning of two new television dramas, both starring John Simm. On BBC Two there’s Collateral in which a pregnant copper leads a hasty jaunt through a London borough as its residents react to a murder. And on ITV there’s Trauma which sees a murder victim’s dad get a bit obsessed with Adrian Lester. I watched Collateral first and was rewarded with a surprisingly starry cast for the BBC’s secondary channel. There’s Billie Piper, Nicola Walker, the aforementioned Simm and Carey Mulligan (who is by far the most annoying). It has to be said that not much happens in this first episode, it’s largely scene setting and the writer David Hare does it well, the characters are interesting enough to warrant further watching. It feels as though there’s a lot of liberal themes hanging in the air (there’s a prominent lesbian couple, a Labour-held constituency and immigration is an important issue throughout) which I’m sure will be explored later on.
But I fear there’s a danger that Collateral might veer into that preachy, middle-class idea of good TV. Sunday supplements reeling out slogans like “racial relations on a domestic level” – that’s all well and good but what if the show itself is boring? Kiri, Channel 4’s most recent lecture, sorry, show, started off good and then ended up feeling like a stern telling off. I thought “bloody hell, what have I done?” I had to check that I wasn’t the one who had kidnapped the titular child for a second. I hope Collateral doesn’t make me feel like that, I just want to relax in front of the telly, thanks.
Now to Trauma, the drama that also stars a lesbian couple and John Simm, just a channel above. We’re getting a messier Simm here. A working-class Simm. And, within the first ten minutes, a soon-to-be unemployed Simm. It’s instantly bleaker than BBC Two’s offering. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t sobbing, it’s a naff kind of bleak. Like, sad, but I don’t really give a shit. The son of Simm’s character is stabbed at the start of the programme and despite help from the hospital’s trauma team, he is killed off pretty quickly. Trauma’s got an altogether more whiney tone than Collateral; I could’ve sworn that Simm’s wife didn’t say anything other than “waaahhhhh!” in this first episode. That kind of tone I expected, though, having seen Simm on ITV’s breakfast programme This Morning yesterday. He cooed “To be an actor you have to go to a dark place sometimes”. Truly moving Simm, tell me more.
He’s not the star here anyway, it’s Adrian Lester who heads up the trauma team operating on Simm’s son. He’s always fun to watch. The moment he steps into frame there’s a thrill because he plays his characters with a beguiling malevolence – what you see is never what you get, and that’s true of Trauma. Even the bits that I shouldn’t enjoy, like the gory operating scene, felt bouncy and entertaining with Lester at the helm. Yes, that’s right Adrian, just operate like that in your burgundy, tight-fit, cashmere jumper – I’m sure that’s entirely normal practice for surgeons. He’s a decaffeinated Idris Elba in the best possible way – somewhere between sexy, roughed-up conman and divorce lawyer from Luton. He’s great fun and he carries Trauma almost entirely.
Which is better, Collateral or Trauma? It’s hard to say. Both series will attract a very different viewership. I think those who prefer Collateral will be the type to enjoy their viewing with a neatly arranged plate of Waitrose Duchy biscuits. The Trauma fans will make do with the shit ones still left in the box of Quality Street from last Christmas and a mugga tea. I’m with the Trauma lot, far less thinking involved, though I suspect I’ll be annoyed by it towards the end. Most people will prefer Collateral. It has that discuss-ability, that potential to be mulled over with your neighbour and a “pass-it-around” tray of smoked salmon blinis. Neither are show-stopping but either one will do for a Monday night as long as you don’t mind a bit of John Simm.