TV: Waterloo Road
Because I'm taking a break from The Bill (largely because they've reverted to bookending each segment with a close-up of a lavatory bowl), for the first time ever I dipped into Waterloo Road, BBC1's drama series set in a comprehensive school.
Waterloo Road is so bonkers that it makes Grange Hill look like a documentary. But it does have something in common with Grange Hill: not even the mildest swear word ever passes the lips of the children, probably because it has a pre-watershed start. And it does feature many kids from the Grange Hill Repertory Company. Where will the BBC find experienced child actors now that Grange Hill is no more?
It has to be said that the kids were far better actors than the adults in Waterloo Road, perhaps because they hadn't yet picked up those repetitive mannerisms to indicate emotion or those corny reaction shots. (By the way, someone needs to tell James Corden to stop scratching his chin with his thumb at times of stress. He does this in every role that he plays. No, he's not in Waterloo Road. Yet.)
For something that aspired to grittiness, Waterloo Road was remarkably sentimental for much of the time, in a To Sir With Love, From Mr Chips kind of way.
The grit was provided by the family from hell, three of whose kids were mixed race - a pleasing detail for racist viewers. Indeed the Kelly kids were half Irish and half Black, giving you more racist bangs for your bucks. And on the subject of bangs, one of the Kelly boys was tooled up - and not for the woodwork lesson. I don't want to come over all Daily Mail but I was uneasy about a scene where a 14 year old finds that a gun can persuade other pupils to literally lick your boots - or trainers, to be precise. And there was no retribution within this pre-watershed episode because he palmed the gun off on his younger brother. The moral of this episode - standing on its own - was that you can have a lot of fun if you take a gun to school.
If a pupil pushes an anonymous note uner the Headteacher's door saying there's a gun in the school, is it standard practice to evacuate the school and call in the Armed Response Unit? I fear that some kid watching this episode will be tempted to find out. Anyway, that's what happened here, with the kids assembled in front of the school, seemingly in the line of fire of the armed police.
What is almost certainly not standard practice is that when a family of kids have wrought havoc on their first day at school, including firing a gun, the Head and her Deputy would instruct them to be at school punctually the following morning. Not sure this applied to the youngest though, who was banged up in a cell and sobbing as the credits rolled.
Lucy, the late florist from Coronation Street who was one of Peter Barlow's two simultaneous wives, turned up in Waterloo Road claiming to have had lots of life experience. Make that death experience, too. For according to Peter Barlow she has died from an unspecified illness. (Actually it was the terminal soap illness of a plot hitting the buffers).
A former Corrie detective was also on the teaching staff, following a short spell as a criminal and supergrass in the The Bill. We saw him getting drunk with Corrie's Denise Welch, who had a famous affair with Kevin Webster. And a trailer for next week's episode showed her being chatted up by Tim Healy, her real-life husband who also fetched up in Corrie not long ago as the father of Sean Tully.
I mention all this because there are thousands of competent actors out of work yet television mostly casts from a small, closed pool of actors. I suppose they want 'a safe pair of hands'. And yet......remember your lines, act when they say 'Action!' and stop when they say 'Cut!'......how difficult can it be for God's sake? I once dreamed that I had a small part in Corrie, one of the most enjoyable dreams I've ever had. It was terribly easy. In fact, it proved you can do it in your sleep.
Waterloo Road is one of those programmes that leaves you puzzled about the intentions of the writers and producers. Is it meant to be realistic? Is it serious drama? Is it comedy? Is it comedy-drama?
And if it's just badly-written, poorly-acted nonsense, surely the BBC could do something better with the vast amount of money it must cost to produce this series totalling over 20 hours.
Anyone who wants slick, sharply-written entertainment will surely stick with The Bill on the other side, assuming they can stomach those Jeyes Fluid ads. But even those are considerably more credible than Waterloo Road.