If the indications from 2022’s first weeks are anything to go by, this will be a glory year for new telly drama.
Light entertainment isn’t doing badly either, but there’s so much of it that we’re going to pause just long enough to welcome back one show.
The third series of The Masked Singer (STV) continues to be glorious, contrived nonsense, with Davina McCall, Rita Ora, Jonathan Ross and Mo Gilligan competing to see who can come up with the most nonsensical suggestions for who’s dressed as a Traffic Cone or a pile of Doughnuts this week.
Surely Robo Bunny will go all the way
Gloria Hunniford’s voice was a nice surprise, but surely Robo Bunny will go all the way for the costume, the voice and the acting talent – whichever it is you’re tuning into this prime slice of family entertainment for. And Doughnuts has to be Peter Crouch.
On to the drama, and the brilliance of The Tourist (BBC One/iPlayer), which is more like a quirky, big-budget Hollywood thriller.
Or several thrillers. First, Spielberg’s Duel, as Jamie Dornan’s character is smashed off the road in the Australian Outback by an articulated lorry.
Then Christopher Nolan’s Memento, as he pieces his blank memory back together, with shades of Oliver Stone’s U-Turn and the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men as he dodges fearsome hitmen and small-town cops.
The action is brisk and gripping, the scenery beautiful and the mystery element wrung out without growing stale.
The characters are excellently drawn too, particularly Dornan’s nameless Irish drifter with a desperate glint in his eye.
The actor is revelatory after his wooden Fifty Shades days – and also Danielle Macdonald’s amiable, helpful probationary police constable with the most irritatingly needy fiancée.
Calling card for Hollywood
Written by sibling writing duo Harry and Jack Williams, creators of The Missing and Baptiste, The Tourist is a great calling card for Hollywood if they want to use it.
It’s halfway through for weekly viewers, but it’s difficult to see how anyone can resist the urge to binge it on iPlayer.
This year is a promising one for dramas starring Maxine Peake, in particular. After Anne, ITV’s dramatisation of the late Hillsborough campaigner Anne Matthews, writer Ruth Fowler’s Rules of the Game (BBC One/iPlayer) started this week.
This time Peake is family sportswear firm executive Sam, a toughened professional who’s also wearily hardened against the inherent sexism of the corporate environment she’s been institutionalised by over decades.
Sam’s complacency is shaken when new HR director Maya (Rakhee Thakrar) is appointed in place of her mysteriously disgraced predecessor, and the younger woman’s questions cause problems for everyone.
Fowler’s script is smart on two levels.
First, it’s two murder-mysteries in one, that of an apparent suicide on the firm’s foyer floor, their identity hidden from the viewer, and a teenage office junior named Amy who died some time ago of apparent drink and drugs binge.
On the deeper level, this series is a baked-in critique of the sexism of corporate structures and how it’s perpetuated.
That’s the beauty of Fowler’s script… this message is crystal-clear throughout, but it’s the sharpness of the thriller drama which allows it to be delivered.