03 February, 2009

What the Papers Say: "Moses Jones"


Gareth McLean, The Guardian

"Part police procedural, part unflinching exploration of the grimmer corners of the Ugandan community in London, Joe Penhall's poetic drama stars Shaun Parkes and Matt Smith (yes, him) as an odd couple of coppers investigating a gruesome murder. While there is a lot to recommend it - Parkes' performance is great, the script is zingy - Michael Offer's jittery direction hinders the story and, given the lack of black characters in drama generally, it is disheartening that those featured here are mostly thugs, thieves, killers, crooks, toilet cleaners, prostitutes, or else deranged."

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Sam Wollaston, The Guardian

"At least I had some idea of what the hell was going on.

Which is more than I did in Moses Jones (BBC2), the one with suitcase man. The murder investigation is almost incidental in this one - it also takes on multicultural Britain, London's Ugandan community, mental illness, witchcraft, racism in the police, racism out of the police, and Lord knows what else. It's Sun Hill meets Brick Lane meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, directed by Lord Macpherson. Kinda.

Oh, and Doctor Who tries to hijack it. Not intentionally - Matt Smith hadn't even been named as the new Doctor when Moses Jones was made. But he's in it, and it's the first opportunity many people will have to take him in before he inherits the most high-profile role in TV drama, so the spotlight will inevitably fall on him.

Here, he's DI Moses Jones's junior sidekick DS Dan Twentyman, the retching copper. He doesn't feature hugely - no one does, not even Moses Jones himself - but what there is of him is promising. There's a nice confidence and bright, raised-eyebrow cheeky-chappiness about him, which actually seems quite familiar . . . that's it! He's a bit like David Tennant. Hamlet next, then.

There are plenty of fine performances here, not least by Shaun Parkes in the title role (though there isn't enough of him, as there are too many other people trying to get in on the action). Again, it all looks terrific; London really comes to life. There are some good lines, too - "I arsoned his arse" is my favourite, because I'm puerile. Nice African music, too - better than the atmospheric strings in Whitechapel.

But somewhere along the line, maybe in being too ambitious, it lost its focus. I didn't really know what was going on, or who was who. It's in three parts, too, so maybe all will become clear later. But perhaps there isn't enough to grab you in this opener for there to be a later, if you know what I'm saying."

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Andrew Billen, The Times

"Today,” wrote Henry Reed in Lessons of the War, “we have naming of parts.” His poem, written in 1942, hymned the distracting joys of weapon nomenclature. There is the “piling swivel”, “the breech”, “easing the spring” but the word “gun” is not used. What fun Joe Penhall must have had naming the parts in his new crime drama, Moses Jones. We must assume that he had fun, because his characters last night were always remarking on one another's monikers. The boastful hitman whom DSI Jones arrests in his first scene tells him: “Moses Jones: that's a fucked up name.” Soon Jones is remarking admiringly on his new colleague's surname, Twentyman, and that of a suspect, Joe Ali (after Muhammad Ali), another “good name”. Joe's boss is a wise man called Solomon and there is a cameo by a doctor called Michael Michaels whom a mad patient not unreasonably calls Doctor Doctor.

It is as if Penhall, who five years ago successfully adapted for television Jake Arnott's gangster novel The Long Firm, knows he has to offer incidental pleasures lest we are brought low by his milieu of black Ugandans doing horrible things (voodoo gets its few minutes) and horrible jobs (polishing the trenches of a public conveniences even as white men urinate into them) in horrible London. The specific tale he tells is no happier, concerning a nice old black geezer called Gerald searching for a niece who has fallen into prostitution. Gerald ends up chopped into a suitcase by a couple of Ugandan hoods wittily named Peter and Paul who appear to be working for one Matthias Mutukula, described by Joe, a minicab controller, as “a very nice man, very popular back home”. I doubt from the way he comes on to Gerald's niece in her club, that he is very nice. To further glum things down, the mad patient, Selwyn, ends the episode crashing to his death from a hospital window.

If there is light to be thrown on all this shade it is by Moses Jones himself, a cool dude of a copper, unaware of just how Shaft he looks. We first see him, over the titles, shaving his chest, an act apparently of narcissism but in fact of necessity since he is about to affix a wire tap mic to his pecs. As Jones, Shaun Parkes lights up a scene without doing anything. The most he rises to is easygoing cynicism, and here he is certainly aided by Penhall's dialogue. Asked by his boss to infiltrate “his” people, the Ugandans, he replies: “My people? Who am I? Desmond Tutu?”

And what, you ask, of Dan Twentyman, for he is played by Matt Smith, our Doctor Who elect? On this outing, Smith is certainly irritating enough to follow Eccleston and Tennant in the role. A flop- haired tyro who does the decent thing and throws up at the sight of Gerald's decapitated body, Twentyman is so unstreet unwise that he thinks he's streetwise. “You're going to do this all the time?” asks Moses, on behalf of us all, “all this Famous Five, naive, idiot savant stuff?”

The flaw in this literate, demanding show is that it cannot decide whether we are seeing Ugandan London through Jones's and Twentyman's eyes or Jones and Twentyman through Ugandan London's. There is plenty of good work going on by both cops and Africans, but they don't seem to be operating in quite same programme. But maybe that is divided multicultural Britain for you."

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Catch up with iPlayer

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Press Pack

Joe Penhall interview

Moses Jones: television wakes up to the new face of Africa

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Overnights:
1.4m (5.1%)

4 comments:

Jason Arnopp said...

"Given the lack of black characters in drama generally, it is disheartening that those featured here are mostly thugs, thieves, killers, crooks, toilet cleaners, prostitutes, or else deranged."

... apart from Shaun Parkes who plays upstanding cop Moses Jones, who the very show is named after. Sweet Jaysus!

Robin Kelly said...

I do know what he means, but nowadays is a big improvement on the old days of Eastenders and The Bill (Corrie choose not to use any black characters which was more honest of them).

What I liked about Moses Jones is that as well as the lead character being good and the baddies being bad, there were shades of grey with the other characters.

You had a sense of people being caught up in something they couldn't control and having to do things to survive. Which may be cleaning public bogs or selling sex or doing what the local gangsters tell you to do.

Hopefully, we've matured enough as a nation to see the black underclass and not think all blacks are like that, which is the worry McLean has.

After all, I don't think all Jasons are serial killers because of Halloween. Or is that the wrong analogy...

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