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TV review: Inside Man, Am I Being Unreasonable?, and Cunk on Earth

07 October 2022

BBC/Hartswood/Paul Stephenson

David Tennant plays the Revd Harry Watling in Inside Man (BBC1, Mondays)

David Tennant plays the Revd Harry Watling in Inside Man (BBC1, Mondays)

HOW good to have a vicar as the central character in a major drama — and no ineffectual wimp, but one who is young, dynamic, and magnetic! (It is David Tennant, after all.) Unfortunately, at this point these qualities are somewhat swamped by more unlikely characteristics.

He lives in great style, in a splendidly appointed vicarage that any diocesan board of finance would have sold years ago. When begged by his clearly deranged young verger to hide the flash drive containing the pornography that he must hide from his termagant, fire-and-brimstone mother (on furlough from a slasher horror movie), there is no indication that the priest has ever been on a safeguarding course or even heard of such a thing.

This flash drive lands him in a descending vortex of disasters, resulting in his assaulting his son’s maths tutor and locking her in cellar, while he and his wife consider the best means of murder. In my experience, this scenario is rarely encountered in parish life.

Inside Man (BBC1, Mondays) is glossy and stylish. An unfortunate mathematician’s incarceration parallels the death-row imprisonment, in the United States, of a criminological genius who whiles away the years awaiting his execution by solving impossible crimes. Sooner or later, he will, of course, sort out this preposterous mess. Any relationship with real life is entirely coincidental.

There is a different take on village life in Am I Being Unreasonable? (BBC1, Fridays). Daisy May Cooper extends her comic range from being the teenager from hell in This Country to playing the Worst Mother in School: stroppy, messing up the fête, smoking, drinking to excess. Our expectations are neatly overturned: her severely disabled son is the family’s rock, trying to make his mother take him to school on time, for once.

But, by the second episode’s close, something rather marvellous has taken place. Our — OK, my — instinctive condemnation of her selfish and disruptive behaviour is, bit by bit, undermined by seeing her tragi-comic back story. Vulgar farce morphs into something far more tender. Morally, this is important TV: transforming our negative judgement by sympathy and understanding.

The origins of Christianity were dissected — actually, thoroughly trashed — in the second episode of Cunk on Earth (BBC2, Tuesday of last week). Diane Morgan is now a franchise, her terminally ignorant and inept character Philomena Cunk commissioned, such is the way of TV producers, to present series on subjects about which she knows nothing and understands less.

The overarching gag is the absurdity of TV celebrity documentaries, their familiar tropes and conventions. I particularly relish how she clings invincibly to her misapprehensions when confronted by inconvenient facts; the greatest mystery is how on earth the senior clergy and theologians whom she interviews manage to keep a straight face when confronted by such lunacy.

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