James Nesbitt’s furrowed brow deserves its own Bafta

Last night’s TV was all about seething turmoil. First there was the conclusion of The Missing on BBC One at 9pm, in which we discovered the tragic fate of Oliver Hughes. Then there was Charlie Brooker’s White Christmas, part of his Black Mirror series, which again featured the untimely demise of a little one. Because nothing says Christmas like a small, duffel coat-clad figure lying in the snow.

There was no resolution in The Missing. Although, we did find out what happened to Oliver from the dying owner of the guest house that the family had been staying at when he disappeared. The owner, supposedly on the wagon, saw Ollie’s dropped scarf as an opportunity to get drunk without his wife’s knowledge. Meanwhile, Oliver was tempted away from his father’s hand by a fox and ran with excruciating timing out into the road down which the drunkard’s car was careering home. Being unwilling to admit to the crime, the owner calls his law enforcement brother who then calls in Romanian thugs to deal with Oliver. He wasn’t dead from being hit by the car, as the drunkard believed, but it seems he was after the Romanian guy went in. However, the brother rudely tops himself before police can get him to talk about it or offer where he was buried. There is a moment, at his ex-wife’s wedding, when you think that Tony has finally gained some modicum of peace and closure, but later that night he is back ringing Julian, the tiniest uncertainty enough to fire his debiliatating hope. The series ends in a place as bleak and chilling as itself – a Russian suburban estate with a haggard Tony banging on the door to a flat and telling a bemused Russian boy that he is his son. The boy looks like he could be Oliver, but since the police who pick him up mention Tony has been harassing boys in other Russian towns, we must assume the boy is not really him. So we leave Tony, destined to walk the globe looking for a son he is never going to find. It wasn’t a satisfying ending, but it was never going to be.

It has been a well acted piece of drama that’s kept us watching for two months. Special mention going to Tcheky Karyo as Julian Baptiste, who brought a warmth and believability to his retired, sympatheic detective and, of course, James Nesbitt and most especially his outraged, disbelieving brow which has put in a striking manifesto both for its own Bafta and against the use of botox. I’ve not been aware of “forehead acting” before but I am now. I apologise if these remarks sound flippant given the weight of the subject matter, but thankfully, none of it was real.

At the same time on Channel 4, Brooker unleashed his dystopian Christmas special, starring Jon Hamm and Rafe Spall sharing Christmas dinner in a mysterious isolated cottage. By drip feed over the hour and a half we eventually learn what is going on, which has to do with “cookies” – digital mini-mes of people – and “blocking”. Brooker does what he always does, which is use the glowing light-box in our living room to point out what might have gone a bit astray in our think-boxes. He takes modern technology and trends then sees them down a rabbit hole to terrifying extreme conclsuions. Black Mirror may be just the other side of what is feasibly possible in technology, but it feels like it could happen and that’s what makes it so disturbing. It was an engrossing yet unsettling watch, a cautionary tale – about what exactly, I don’t know. Our reliance on and unquestioning acceptance of technology perhaps. All I know is I’m troubled by the idea of a sentient bit of data being forced to listen to Noddy Holder’s festive oeuvre on repeat for aeons.

Some of it might not all that believable but it made for appallingly engrossing viewing. Brooker gives a hapless pick up artist a nasty end when his pseudo-philosophical ramblings to get into a girl’s knickers backfire spectacularly. Dark and then some.

And with that I feel a bit dark-ed out. This, coming from me! ’ll always go for tragedy over comedy but even I am feeling the need for something more wholesome. It’s hard, nigh on impossible I would say, to make punchy, engrossing and memorable drama without it being dark yet I’m yearning for some TV that isn’t relentlessly bleak and also doesn’t feature the existential nightmare that is Noel Edmonds – not even the whisper of a mullet hair. Is that too much to ask? Maybe I’ll just read a book. Next on my list is a collection of stories from a Russian author, the Russians are light-hearted aren’t they? Aren’t they??


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