Daytime TV: Buon appetito

Old flames quaff too much Chianti over lunch, says Gary Day, while a copycat killer stalks the East End

October 14, 2010

Credit: Miles Cole

It's not a bad idea for a poem. A man meeting up with an old flame. It's not a bad idea for a play. But to write the poem and then present it as a play, well, I'm not so sure. The Song of Lunch (BBC Two, Friday 8 October, 9pm) ought to have been the pick of the week's television. A dramatisation of Christopher Reid's poem of the same name starring Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. What was there not to like?

The poetry, for a start. It was like the menu down which "He" (Alan Rickman) ran his jaded eye. "Pizza by the yard." Doughy, lumpy and pumped full of artificial flavours. There were some nourishing titbits, "the book of reservations", but for the most part it left this viewer feeling bloated.

The Song of Lunch wasn't much better as drama. "He" had interior monologue, "She" (Emma Thompson) had dialogue - an imbalance that caused their conversation to totter in the manner "He" did after consuming too much Chianti. There was also the small matter of plausibility. Is there anyone so up themselves, even in literary London, that they keep up a running commentary on everything they do? "I am walking along the road. Now I am hurrying. There is the restaurant." It wasn't quite like that, but it wasn't far off.

Most people, after consuming nearly two bottles of wine, do not merit the adjective "coherent", but "He" kept up his sub-Alfred J. Prufrock pose without pause. The biggest strain on credulity, though, was that "She" would come all the way from Paris just for lunch with this crashing bore.

Unless it was to tell him that "He", not "She", was the subject of his poetry. "You have not been in touch with your inner self in your entire life," "She" proclaimed. "She" wouldn't say that if she could have heard what we heard. The non-stop engine of his ego marvelling at his poetic persona, oblivious to its mediocre and derivative nature. No wonder "She" left him for a novelist.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, he staggers off for a pee and ends up falling asleep on the roof, leaving her alone in the restaurant where they were once all entwined eyes and hands. When he comes round, he has a moment of illumination. He is his own "assailant". He stares at a brick wall opposite. It "illuminates nothing". Brick walls rarely do. The acting was superb, though you do wonder if Emma Thompson would one day like to play a role that did not involve her being so bloody sensible. Alan Rickman's face almost dispensed with the need for the poetry. Reid was one of the original "Martian poets". This piece showed he has yet to come down to Earth.

The Song of Lunch demonstrated that you can't go back to the past, but the new series of Whitechapel (ITV1, Monday 11 October, 9pm) shows that you can never escape it. Mind you, it is a bit hard to work out exactly where we are on the temporal scale. Now? The 1980s? The 1960s? They were all conflated. Anyway, a serial killer is on the loose. He is murdering anyone who turned Queen's Evidence against the Kray twins. What's more, he's disposing of them in exactly the same way as the infamous twins dispatched their victims. A documentary-maker with a taste for porkpie hats has worked it all out before the police. No surprises there. He goes to warn one Slasher Daneford that he may be next in line. "Nah," says Slasher, "I'm outta that game." The next time we see Slasher he is propped up in a car, having been carved up just like Jack "the Hat" McVitie.

This being the East End, the language is more colourful than literary. "What do you call a bird with bacon on her face?" asks one young man. "Kath." A couples of heavies, presumably with mothers called "Kath", are not amused and remove half his face while he is taking a loo break. Aspiring comedians would be well advised to give this part of London a wide berth.

The series is diverting because of the contrasts between the different detectives. DI Joseph Chandler (Rupert Penry-Jones), who looks like a coalition politician, represents the sort of approach probably favoured by readers of this magazine but not by the government. When his second in command DS Ray Miles, played by the splendidly snarling Phil Davis, has a panic attack, Chandler urges his fellow officers to show him some "understanding and compassion". DCI Torbin Cazenove (Peter Serafinowicz) has a different method. If any of his team slips up, they are likely to have a picture smashed over their head before being punched unconscious. By episode three, we should know which of these tactics yields the best results.

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