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This quality drama is best on the box
10:48am Thursday 13th August 2009 in Leisure
The Street, BBC1, Monday 9pm THIS series of The Street has been one of the best examples in years of just how vital good quality drama is to decent television.
On a Monday night too, with the weekend over and the toil of the working week ahead, you need something to look forward to.
Not that the subject matter of Jimmy McGovern’s work is ever likely to cheer anyone up.
Recent episodes have dealt with a Territorial Army member who suffers horrific facial injuries and damage to his reputation when he can’t bring himself to shoot an Afghan suicide bomber, who approaches him holding a baby.
Then there was the story of the racist who had to come to terms with his falling in love with a Polish woman rescued from a house fire.
This week it was the turn of Shay, an alcoholic, whose life is a rollercoaster of disaster. Shay is brilliantly played by the convincingly tortured and shambolic Stephen Graham, backed by Maxine Peake as his former lover Madeleine, who reveals they have a son together who wants to meet her father.
Down the pub again, Shay bigs up his son, Otto, giving him potential Olympic boxer status, but when he catches sight of him through a window and realises he is Down’s Syndrome he doesn’t want to know him.
Gradually he comes to terms with his son, the fantastic Leon Harrop, but the situation goes from bad to worse as the alcohol grips his every waking moment and when Otto fits after drinking his father’s vodka and coke, believing it to be a soft drink, Shay’s downward spiral leads to him sleeping on the streets.
It’s extremely uncomfortable viewing, but McGovern’s writing is gripping, with a drunken and homeless Shane stating: “Shakespeare writes about men hitting rock bottom and then finding themselves, but how do you know when you have hit rock bottom? You might think you have hit it but then the ground gives way and you fall a bit more. I think I hit it that night. I don’t think I could have fallen any further.”
It’s real lump in the throat stuff, but there’s plenty of tragic comedy in here too, especially when Shay confronts the two students who rent rooms in his house, with: “You’re students, aren’t you? You should be out on the p*** with traffic cones on your heads and singing middle class songs like I Am The Music Man . . .”
There’s hope at the end when Nick (Jonas Armstrong), the injured TA soldier from a previous episode, rescues him from his night spent under the arches with the tramps and tells him the brave thing isn’t coping with your situation, but living with it afterwards.
As we leave the Street, we discover that Shay has now spent six months without having a drink . . . but we also know there’s still the chance that the ground could give way and he could fall again.
Louis Theroux: The City Addicted To Crystal Meth, BBC2, Sunday 9pm FRESNO in California’s Central Valley has a problem, a big problem. It is the capital of crystal meth addiction, a drug that is causing problems across generations and ripping the heart out of the city.
Here, Louis Theroux aims to find out why and, in doing so, spends a night out with the police and interviews addicts and dealers in the process.
Theroux is better at this sort of thing than he is at exploiting the likes of Jimmy Savile for cheap laughs in what is basically freak scene television.
This is a depressing programme, but one that serves as a warning as to what this country will probably face in the next 10 years.
After all, what happens in America usually happens here.
We find that not all the dealers are evil and not all the addicts are complete wrecks, with one couple, in their 50s and users since 1995, inhabiting a tidy house and, to the outside world, functioning normally in most respects.
Theroux sees how the drug wrecks children’s relationships with their parents and finds a brother and sister who have grown so close through crystal meth they even sleep together.
He visits a care clinic, where, as is typical, the positive messages contained within the songs and mantras chanted by the clients are all about moving up and on.
Strangely, one of the side effects is unbridled sexual activity, which results in users often having children — and many of them — at a young age.
Despite the apparent cheeriness of the users, there’s not much hope contained here, with the drug leading to the rotting of teeth and a wrecking of the nervous system.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of the authorities, the situation is becoming worse. There’s not much else to do in Fresno, apparently. For many, there’s not much else to do here either . . .