After Too Many Dull Telly ‘Tec Shows, BBC Scotland’s ‘The Scheme’ is Criminally Good

Idris Elba as DCI Luther

I’m still unconvinced by crime drama, Luther.

It tries desperately to create an unorthodox detective whose baggage is a bit less obvious or predictable than what is usually churned out in TV cop shows.

Sadly the story lines are becoming typical serial killer fodder – and  serial killer stories  invariably disappoint for a varietly of reasons.

Ubiquity renders them lazy, predictable, repetitive and means they’ve almost certainly been done better before – from Silence of the Lambs to the first series of Prime Suspect.

For me crime fiction is better when it has a basis in every day reality and flirts with the complexities and subtleties of of runof the mill criminality. Which is exactly what made The Wire one of the best TV series of the past decade.

The portrayal of baltimore drug lord Stringer Bell by British actor Idris Elba was one of many high points. A detailed and sympathetic portrait created a believable, 3D and, at times, morally ambiguous character.

Elba’s brooding screen presence is the only thing keeping me tuned into Luther, in the vain hope he will get a story line worthy of his considerable acting mettle. However, I have another reason to be glad I watched the most recent isntalment.

Not long after Luther finished, BBC Scotland unleashed new offering  The Scheme - and it was blistering.

Did I mention that I like crime stories to be gritty, believable, unvarnished – and as far away as possible from the two dimensional crap  of black/white or good/evil  we are normally served up?

Well, the scheme delivered in spades with characters including:

An ex jailbird dad who is desperately trying to keep his five kids from repeating his mistakes . No-one could ever accuse him of being soft, so the sight of him in tears when his son was jailed was genuinely moving.

Marvellous Marvin, the badly complected and dentally challenged ex junkie. After six years of being clean all he wants is a wife and family. When his girlfriend (on methdone) gets out of prison he seems on course. Until diazepam gets him first arrested, then suffering life-threatening seizures.

There’s even a touch of glamour, in the shape of two or three young women who would more readily turn heads if they weren’t careening betweeen poor boyfriend choices, teen pregnancies and cheap booze blowouts.

This show has got the lot. Drugs, booze, violence,  police chases and even borderline animal cruelty.

Just one small point. It isn’t crime fiction – it is a fly-on-the-wall reality show.

It is also (on the evidence of just one episode mind you) utterly brilliant.

I hope the BBC Scotland team behind it earn plaudits aplenty for the depth and richness of what they have captured. They spent a years charting the lives of six households in Kilmarnock. if they can sustain the quality across the show’s six episodes they will truly have produced something special.

The moral repugnancy of some characters is exposed as unblinkingly as the fortitude of some others shines through. The “cast” may be ill-educated, roughly-hewn and at times impenetrable – but there is a total lack of artifice and veneer. Nobody is showboating for the cameras. The  usual bravado seen in early days of such shows is absent.

All of which means the viewing can be painful and cringe-inducing. The sight of a mum being joined in bed by her gap-toothed and endearinly smiley five-year-old daughter should be a happy scene which resonates with every family.

Except spot what is wrong with this picture: The bedroom is luridly pink, there is a bottle of Irn Bru by the side of the bed and mum is so desperate to light up her first fag of the day she is heard screaming at the top of her lungs: “What c*** knows where my lighter is?”. Nobody, including the grinning five-year-old, misses a beat.

Yet it is this same woman who is doing her utmost to help her daughters and family friends to prevent their lives from unravelling. Any indigantion about her smoking and swearing in front of the kids evaporates as she stoically takes in homeless teenage mums and deals with booze crazed boyfriends.

Of course, the real star of the show so far is Bullitt, a hapless mongrel with a large dose of Pit Bull in its genes. The dog is frenziedly friendly and you can’t help but feel sorry for the animal even as it is sh*tting all over the place.

Like all of the other deeply flawed characters in this show, Bullit is contributing to a piece of potentially era-defining telly which could make the highly-acclaimed Shameless series appear anaemic.

I have no idea what size of audience or type of viewers The Scheme will attract. I just hope th the script writers for Luther are among them, because they will certainly learn something about stories worth telling.

7 thoughts on “After Too Many Dull Telly ‘Tec Shows, BBC Scotland’s ‘The Scheme’ is Criminally Good

  1. I agree. The Scheme is one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. Train-smash telly at its best, but how long before there’s a backlash. Kilmarnock’s worthies might not be best pleased and there are bound to be some who say it’s exploitative.

    • Hi Ellen,
      Long time – so thanks for the comment.
      Your comment was ahead of the game. Much of the chat since then has been whether this is exploitative or not.
      Personally I don’t believe so. However there are a few episodes to go.
      Some of the upcoming footage of a guy totally and utterly ripped on drugs looks as thought it could sail a bit close.

  2. Ellen – I don’t see how it can be exploitative when we’re paying for it all from booze to fags to the ubiquitous widescreen plasmas to the flats, utilities, food, kids and licence fee…

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