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TV review: Showtrial, Close To Me, Stath Lets Flats, and What We Do in the Shadows

12 November 2021

BBC/World Productions

Cleo Roberts (Tracy Ifeachor) and Talitha Campbell (Celine Buckens) in Showtrial (BBC1, first episode 31 October, and iPlayer)

Cleo Roberts (Tracy Ifeachor) and Talitha Campbell (Celine Buckens) in Showtrial (BBC1, first episode 31 October, and iPlayer)

TWO women lie under judgement in Sunday-evening dramas: in Showtrial (BBC1, first episode 31 October, and iPlayer), Talitha, the most obnoxious student in the history of higher education, is in the dock of Bristol Crown Court accused of murdering her former best friend Hannah.

Close To Me (Channel 4, first episode 7 November, and All 4) depicts happily married Jo, recovering from horrific injuries sustained by a headlong fall down the stairs. She’s making a good physical recovery, but her memory of the past year has been completely wiped from her mind.

Bit by bit, events begin to piece together — but not reconstructing her happiness and security: exactly the opposite. If she’s so happily married, why does she find a condom in her coat pocket? Why did her beloved daughter drop out of university? Why is her husband hiding so much from her — out of loving concern, or for some more dubious reason?

The judgement that she faces is her own internal analysis: what had her life become before the accident? Had she decisively overstepped some personal moral code? And, above all, has she gone mad? It’s a clever inversion of a life apparently coming back together, but in truth unravelling; internal psychological terror far more unsettling than any number of ghosts and ghouls.

Showtrial travels in the opposite direction. Hyper-privileged Talitha is so ghastly — showing no distress, mercilessly patronising everyone she considers her inferior (i.e., everyone), offering no assistance to her own defence, but treating the possibility of a lifetime’s imprisonment as a preposterous invasion of her world — that she jolly well deserves to be guilty, and we urge on the police: Find the evidence to convict her.

But, little by little, we follow the lead of her put-upon but brilliant young black Legal Aid solicitor, seeing beneath the insolence: have childhood abuse and neglect made her what she appears? Inside, is there, however deeply hidden, a person of value? And, anyway, just because someone is terminally ghastly does not of itself make them guilty of murder.

Both these compelling dramas, brilliantly acted, challenge our own moral certainties and question the security of our instinctive judgement.

Two returning TV series are linked by a woman — but here, it’s the same one. Natasia Demetriou stars in both her brother Jamie’s Stath Lets Flats (Channel 4) and BBC2’s What We Do in the Shadows (both Tuesdays). Their contrast could not be stronger. In the one, she colludes in the disaster that is north London’s worst Greek Cypriot housing agents, set in glum urban shabbiness; in the other, oozing luxuriant decadence, she is an immortal aristocratic vampire terrorising New York.

Both characters and comedies share an overarching characteristic: stratospheric levels of incompetence. No scheme, however innocent or nefarious, succeeds — and yet somehow life (or living death) carries on. I laugh, therefore I am?

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