CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Gallows humour nicely balances the simmering tension on C Wing in ‘Screw’
DIY SOS Strictly Special
Way back when newsrooms were a sepia fug of Rothmans smoke, I worked on a features desk where the sub-editors played a game with their star columnist.
Each week they offered him an impossibly arcane or unlikely word to incorporate into his opening paragraph. Dodecahedron. Embrocation. Avoirdupois. Ontological. Tintinnabulation.
Arnold invariably obliged, with such flourish that this stray verbiage was transformed into the central gem in a sparkling intro.
The prison officers at Long Marsh jail are playing a similar game as Screw (Ch4) returns for a second series. Points are scored by working song titles into the banter with lags.
‘You gotta have Faith,’ one tells a depressed convict. Another brushes off complaints with a heartless, ‘Isn’t it Ironic?’ Funniest of all is Jackie (Laura Checkley), who hailed an obese prisoner with the greeting, ‘Another Day In Paradise, Tiny.’
Nina Sosanya as Leigh Henry in Channel 4’s Screw, which returns for a second series
That’s George Michael, Alanis Morissette and Phil Collins, for those who are keeping score.
This drama is an abrasive blend of gallows humour (not literally — they’ve abolished that) and crime thriller. The shadow of organised crime still hangs over the officers on C Wing, with trainee Rose (Derry Girls’ Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) being blackmailed by gangsters.
Extra padding of the night: Judging the Mr Gay England contest at Alnwick Castle in The Duchess And Her Magical Kingdom (More4), Lady Jane Percy was on the alert for ‘false drag queens’ — women pretending to be men dressed as women. But do false drag queens wear falsies?
But the main emphasis now is on newcomer Lee Ingleby as an anxious civil servant awaiting trial, apparently out of his depth in this violent environment — until we realise he is an undercover detective.
Rumours are already spreading among prisoners of a copper in their midst, and the mood is turning nasty. Senior officer Leigh (Nina Sosanya) isn’t getting much support from the Governor — even though she’s sleeping with him.
Meanwhile, the Latvian contingent is trying to brew vodka in the radiators, which threatens to blow up the wing, and a bunch of Kosovan prisoners are attempting to make yoghurt — which, given the virulence of Balkan dairy products, could have even more disastrous effects.
Sosanya (left) alongside Jamie-Lee O’Donnell as Rose Gill at Long Marsh jail
Tensions between staff and cellmates, a simmering balance of uneasy trust and mutual resentment, are well drawn. Writer Rob Williams restricts the one-liners so that the script doesn’t tip too far into comedy, and we see enough of the characters to feel they’ve led real lives before we met them.
Best of all is the sense that, aside from an unusually high proportion of psychotic killers in residence, the daily frustrations of imprisonment aren’t so different from ordinary life.
After a bout of thefts, one old con succumbs to a fit of nostalgia. ‘I remember when you used to be able to leave your cell door wide open all day,’ he sighs. ‘Am I right? Of course I am.’
DIY SOS (BBC1) always taps into that old-time spirit of community and honest comradeship, and this Strictly Special was no exception as Nick Knowles rallied support to transform a derelict sports hall into a dance school.
This gave the regulars a chance to audition for the main glitterball event. Nick’s display of grooving, like a gorilla attempting the breaststroke, failed to impress judge Anton Du Beke.
Strictly stars Anton du Beke, Katya Jones with DIY SOS’s Billy Byrne (centre)
Nick Knowles and Gabby Blackman discuss issues with the build in the BBC series
But builder Chris, showing off to pro dancer Luba Mushtuk, revealed he had been practising some Mick Jagger moves. ‘My dad danced just the same,’ Luba reassured him.
The real stars were the young performers from the True Colours school in Wallsend, North Tyneside — many of them with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy or autism.
At a climactic show, electrician Billy was in floods of tears as the troupe staged a tribute to one young woman’s father, a stalwart of True Colours, who had died a couple of weeks earlier.
Even in a series devised to put a lump in your throat, it was a touching moment.
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