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It’s all too easy, sometimes, to dismiss Channel 5 , but with Wynonna Earp, Suspects and Borderline all on the broadcaster’s catch-up books at the moment, its output has never been more diverse. We take a look at each.
Channel 5 isn’t known for its dramas, and for simple reason: it doesn’t really commission them. With one exception: Suspects, its only original British drama, which has a neat USP: it’s all improvised.
Five seasons in and you’d expect the cast to have exhausted all the possibilities the format offers, but the programme smartly switches up talent for the start of this new run. Fan favourites Jack (Damien Molony) and Charlie (Claire-Hope Ashley) return, but with Fay Ripley busy with ITV’s Cold Feet reunion, DI Martha is promptly bumped off – the opening sees her discovered shot dead in her bed. Her husband’s even dispatched, for good measure.
And so the new guys enter to help crack the case: Lenora Crichlow as DS Alisha Brooks and Perry Fitzpatrick as TDC Gary Roscoe. Best of all, though, is Cucumber’s James Murray, who slips seamlessly into the senior role of DCI Daniel Drummond.
That shot of fresh blood seems to bump the quality up from Season 4, while story writer Steve Bailie (of Deutschland 83) adeptly balances the new with old faces from Jack’s post – namely, former flame Rose (a wonderfully slinky Karen Hassan), a waitress at a bar run by a dodgy sort (an equally slippery Neil Stuke).
The dialogue doesn’t shy away from feeling made up on the spot, but rather than cheapen the set-up, it makes these people seem even more untrustworthy, as they never seem to be confidently telling the truth. Molony, meanwhile, is a seasoned veteran at playing the increasingly unreliable Jack, and Murray matches him as Drummond, who has more going on than you might think.
With BBC Three’s Murder in Successville taking a similar idea and milking it for laughs, there’s a lot to be said for Suspects’ ability to keep things convincing and – thanks to the cast and a deceptively complex plot that aims for more than your generic case-of-the-week – compelling to boot. Channel 5 isn’t known for its drama, but with Season 5 of Suspects starting in such strong manner, this series certainly deserves a reputation.
Available until: 7th September 2016
Building, perhaps, on the success of Suspects, Channel 5 is also taking its first steps into commissioning original comedy too. And Borderline couldn’t be more ambitious. The mockumentary looks, on the surface, like a clone of The Office, but this fly-on-the-wall satire (set in the fictional Northend airport) flies straight into one of the UK’s most topical and divisive issues: immigration.
We follow the UK Border Force at the airport, with staff ordered by the Home Office to crack down on things that are “out of the ordinary”. What ensues is a jumble of inept screw-ups, as they try to navigate the boundary between being alert and straight-up racial profiling.
Drug smuggling, DJs and token dimwits are present and correct, with Jackie Clune as lonely boss Linda gamely playing the fool for maximum cringe-humour. A stereotypical Scot (Grant – Jamie Michie) brings unsubtle giggles, while Liz Kingsman (aptly a veteran of Channel 4’s not dissimilar Ballot Monkeys) steals the show as well-meaning employee Andy, who comes up with a laugh-out-loud solution to daily boredom.
But it’s the underlying prejudices that the script taps into that makes this workplace comedy work. “Oh, come on,” says Grant, as he has to stamp the passport of a sheikh in full customary dress, unsure whether to wave him through without issue or grill him on the spot. Linda trying the same thing with a Norwegian is just as awkward. And then, of course, there’s the non-Muslim who pretends to be Muslim so he’s accepted.
Borderline is not perfect and far from even, but these are the kind of relatable and/or pertinent situations that occur increasingly in a post-Brexit world. Kudos to Channel 5 for attempting to tackle them. The result is as hit-and-miss as the recent BBC sketch show Brexageddon, but there’s more substance here.
Available until: 6th September 2016
Wynonna Earp (My5)
Read our full review