Channel 4 drama Cape Wrath made a quiet debut last night, attracting 1.6 million viewers.The drama, which centres on a family in a witness protection scheme who move to a new estate where nothing is as it seems, attracted an 10% share of the available audience over 90 minutes from 10pm on Channel 4, according to unofficial overnights.Cape Wrath, which Radio Times called "spookily confected nonsense", was unable to retain Big Brother's audience of 4.1 million people in the 9pm hour, a 19% share.
The Channel 4 drama was also beaten by Channel Five's CSI: Miami repeat, which attraced 2.3 million people in the hour from 10pm.
This was the middle of a CSI:Miami triple decker on Five last night. The episode at 9pm also attracted 2.3 million, while the 11pm episode was watched by 1.8 million.
Relocation, relocation, as they say in the witness protection programme. And what a great idea for a drama the witness protection programme is! Channel 4’s new seven parter, Cape Wrath, stretches credibility a little by relocating everybody to the same housing estate, but still . . . dramatically, you’ve got to love the possibilities for intrigue. When most of us move home we have no idea who our neighbours will turn out to be; in Meadowlands you also have no idea who they used to be. No wonder Danny Brogan, the failed barman played by David Morrissey, is half filled with hope, and half with fear, when he introduces his family to their new life.
Last night’s feature-length opener should have been as heady as the first episode of The Prisoner in which Patrick McGoohan was involuntarily relocated to The Village. It could have been as funny as waking up with Truman Burbank in The Truman Showor as weird as Agent Cooper’s arrival in Twin Peaks. Given its title, we might have hoped for the kind of scary thrills provided by the Bowden family’s sojourn in Cape Fear. And it was not as if the writer Robert Murphy and director Duane Clark did not reference the above masterpieces – you may throw Wisteria Lane, Peyton Place and Stepford into the mix – but Meadowlands remained about as heady, funny, weird, creepy and so on as Brookside Close.
Danny’s new neighbours were odd without being interesting. Brenda Ogilvie was the over-the-top one, a one-woman welcoming committee, whose distress at the ravages time had inflicted on her body had warped into manic enthusiasm for her daughter Jezebel’s looks. If you thought Brenda was OTT, you had to meet Jez, a ten-tonne baby doll who fancied herself irresistible to men. So the Ogilvies were the comedy family. The Yorks were the dull couple, he a dishy but bland doctor, she a desperate housewife. Meadowlands also boasted not one but three psychos, a brutish copper, a taciturn villain from Danny’s past, who came and went like an apparition in Lost, and a Neanderthal handyman named Jack.
Actually, Jack, played by Tom Hardy, was one of the better turns and had one of a workaday script’s better lines: “I killed a woman but it was an accident. I meant to keep her alive.” God’s dubious gift to women, he was proving a very handy man both to the doctor’s wife and Danny’s nubile daughter, Zoe. They would still be fighting over him next week, had Danny not slaughtered him at the end of last night’s opener.
Until the homicide, Danny had seemed a mild enough bloke, but that is the way men are on TV these days: taciturn, conventional, well-dressed and then violent nutters when they think they are in the right about something. A properly directed Morrissey could easily have played Danny as someone with a bit of madness about him – remember his Ripley Holden in Blackpool? – but here he was consigned to play Danny as plain Mr Everyman. Lucy Cohu, excellent as Princess Margaret a year or so back, was his uptight, randy wife. Felicity Jones, charming in Northanger Abbey, was Zoe, the rebellious, randy daughter. Harry Treadwell played her disturbed, cross-dressing, yet randy twin. Cape Wrath was full of great actors and not one great character. You might decide it’s worth staying with, but you probably thought that about the last show that cooped strangers up in an artificial community – and how boring did Big Brother 8 turn out to be?
Cape Wrath (ITV1) is a funny one. Imagine that the TV schedules are a big classroom and the programmes are the kids. So Top Gear is the loudmouth prankster - trouble, but also, annoyingly, a little bit lovable. And Newsnight Review is the specky swot at the front. Got it?
Well, you know the kid who's a bit cool, and wears interesting clothes, has funny hair, and is into non-mainstream music and isn't in Top Gear's gang? And you think you'd really like to know that kid because they look kind of interesting, but you're a bit scared of approaching them. But then, when you do finally get to know them, they turn out to be totally uninteresting, all image and trying really hard, but nothing much underneath. That's Cape Wrath.
The Brogan family move to Meadowlands, which looks like any new housing development, but turns out to be a place that no one knows exists - except for the people who live there, every one of them on witness protection. Weird stuff happens. Son Mark won't speak and dresses as a girl; Jack the randy handyman gets beaten up; the sobbing woman next door stands at the window and takes her top off; the shower starts showering mud ... And I suspect it all means very little.
When Cape Wrath (Channel 4) made its debut on the American cable channel Showtime a few weeks ago (under its US title Meadowlands), a review panning it in the San Francisco Chronicle was headlined: “Not our cup of tea, but thanks, mates.”
The reviewer went on to give thanks that, for once, a British drama didn’t make its transatlantic counterparts look like trash. But the references to Cape Wrath’s intrinsic Britishness struck me as odd when I watched the pilot last night. Because, while the cast of this US/UK co-production is certainly British and the series was shot around Maidstone in Kent (you’d never guess it), to anyone this side of the pond the most glaringly obvious thing about Cape Wrath has to be how desperately it was striving to be American.
Think of any endlessly on-running “high-concept” US drama series of the last few years (24, Lost, Heroes, Prison Break, even Desperate Housewives) and you’ll find something to remind you of it here. From the opening seconds when four impossibly well-groomed people in high-tech blindfolds exited a gleaming black MPV in front of a sun-washed, pastel-coloured clapboard house, the mood was far more Wisteria Lane than Privet Drive. Lead character Danny Brogan’s opening line – “New house, new life, new us. Welcome to Meadowlands” – was something no UK dad could say to his wife and teenage kids without risking life-threatening levels of ridicule.
Every character – from the handyman in lumberjack shirt and baseball cap to the crop-headed wife of the lusty local shrink, looked and behaved like a yank with a freakishly good RP accent. More American than anything else, though, was the fact that this pilot raced through an entire 100 minutes of intrigue, violence and thrills without making any sense whatsoever. Brogan (David Morrissey) had obviously done something that required him and his family to be placed in some weird kind of witness protection programme. But apart from explosions seen in laboriously repetitive flashback, a mysterious bloke in yet another baseball cap, and some muttered verbal allusions, we never got any hint of what they were being protected from. Or what it was that made Danny totally paranoid, turned his son into a traumatised transvestite, his daughter into a fearless flirt and his wife to learn the lyrics of all Cole Porter’s songs off by heart. Or, for that matter, why everyone else in the superficially bright but spiritually oh-so-dark Meadowlands community was clearly a freak on witness protection, too.
Not a clue. Or, rather, there were veritable blizzards of clues but together they never added up to anything remotely meaningful, let alone explanatory. In that sense, Cape Wrath did bear a passing resemblance to both The Prisoner and Twin Peaks, as the series’ PR people claimed. But its biggest problem, so far at least, is not that it lacks comparison points with TV classics. Actually, it’s exactly the opposite. In its desperation to ape other series, Cape Wrath appears to have forgotten to be anything in itself.