WE MAY expect the parish priest to be central in any TV drama set in rural Ireland. But, perhaps as a sobering but accurate reflection of the place of the Church in today’s country life in the Republic, the Father was hardly to be glimpsed in Holding (ITV, Mondays), based on the novel by the enfant terrible and national treasure Graham Norton.
Yet the gap was filled, ever more clearly as the series progressed, by the village garda, Sergeant PJ Collins. Finally presented with a really serious crime — as human remains, obviously murdered, are uncovered by a developer — the sergeant eventually solves the case by exercising the most admirable priestly qualities.
He respects and builds on the confidence of the community (all, of course, covertly at loggerheads, all carrying burdens of past secrets, and most disappointed by failure), sits alongside them, waits patiently until the confessional moment opens, pursues the course of justice and truth without judging the perpetrators, and knows which small wrongs to overlook in the cause of revealing what matters.
PJ himself is no conventional hero cop: he is overweight, unsuccessful, and unambitious. But we slowly appreciate the inner core of goodness and quiet intelligence which guides him. With some very funny moments, this is a comedy that develops truly serious depths. Whereas in most crime dramas the plot is increasingly the guiding force, manipulating the characters set up in the first few episodes, here they grow and grow, entering such unfashionable areas as sexual passion between older, conventionally unattractive people (thereby revealing their deeper beauty), and engaging with past abuse, rape, deep hurt, shame, and guilt borne, corrosively, for decades.
The Witchfinder (BBC2, Tuesdays) will surely take wounding potshots at Christianity in one of its darkest episodes — but this new comedy series gives the air of hardly being bothered to do so. It posits that, in 1645, this was so lucrative a career choice that would-be witchfinders vied ruthlessly to be appointed: here, terminally incompetent Gideon Bannister (Tim Key) believes that a high-profile trial and execution of his prisoner, Thomasine Gooch (Daisy May Cooper), will set him among the greats. The shocking concept that the murder of innocent and defenceless women is a remotely appropriate vehicle for humour is undercut by Cooper’s stroppy and uncouth refusal to take her predicament at all seriously: worse than that, there really aren’t enough jokes.
ITV’s psychological drama Our House (7-10 March) opened horrifically: high-flying Fi returns to her beautiful home to find it stripped of all her possessions, and that complete strangers are moving in. Her dastardly husband has sold it without her knowledge. Bit by bit, the back story is revealed, with the lies, guilt, and blackmail: but the more we learn, the more far-fetched it becomes — and the less we care.