TV PROGRAMMERS love dramatic reconstructions of true crimes. They provide the audience with the heightened emotions — which a stern moralist could justifiably condemn as gratuitous, even pornographic in a fictional thriller — of disgust at violence, condemnation of villains, sympathy for victims: all justified by the excuse that it really happened. Usually stretched into a mini-series, they can focus on the police investigation or on the victims; Four Lives (BBC1, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of last week) told the story, most unusually, from the points of view of the victims’ families.
In 2014-15, four young men were murdered by overdoses of the date-rape drug GHB; three of the bodies were left in the churchyard of Barking Abbey, in east London. This was not the usual heroic detective inquiry, the police doggedly determined to get to the bottom of the case. Here, we saw almost criminal police incompetence, blind refusal to link related facts, evidence ignored or destroyed — and, worst of all, callous indifference to the victims’ families, as officers did not bother to involve them or inform them of developments. Deep-seated homophobia surely fuelled the appalling failures.
Eventually, the families’ persistence led to the conviction of the killer and a life sentence. The disturbing drama was brilliantly acted, all the more sobering for eschewing all sensation.
In Attenborough’s Wonder of Song (BBC1, Monday of last week), the great man presented his favourite examples from the non-human world: six birds and one whale. “Wonder” was the key word: we saw him entranced by the beauty, complexity, and sheer oddity of these vocalisations. It was, alas, elegiac: over the past 50 years, the UK has lost more than 90 per cent of its nightingales; and we will never again hear the song of the Hawaian Kaua’i’ O’o: it is now extinct. We now know that, in 64 per cent of bird species, females can sing as well as males. He also demonstrated the range of purpose animating birdsong: not just attracting mates, but also marking out territory and scaring away all rivals.
For sound inoculation against the sin of envy, watch Inside Dubai: Playground of the rich (BBC2, Mondays from 3 January). Here, 52,000 millionaires relish the social permission granted to “enjoy their wealth” in ultra-privacy, the 2.5 million expats happy to accept the Sheik — against whom no word or action of criticism is tolerated — as a good ruler. The sunshine looks lovely; but how greatly is human happiness increased by paying £6.5 million for a car number-plate?
The programme seeks to present balance — interviewing the domestic staff to see if they really are as content as their employers insist, and finding the Nigerian earning three times more as a beach lifeguard than he could at home in his true profession as a research chemist — but its overall mode is, shamefully, jaw-dropping admiration for the outrageous bling on display.