The Street, series 3, by Jimmy McGovern, BBC 1

The Street, series 3, by Jimmy McGovern, BBC 1

The final series of The Street demonstrates the possibilities and limitations of its form – both of which may now disappear from television drama

Neighbourhood Nervous Breakdown. Television review – Tom Jennings
The third run of these Naked City Manchester portmanteaux will, it seems, be the last – as the Beeb follows rivals downsizing original drama (doubly ironic, given production by ITV’s Granada). As before (see series 2 review in Freedom, 15th March 2008), a mixed bag of manipulative melodrama verging on hysterical downbeat sentimentality always pitches interesting, well-crafted storylines, razor-sharp dialogue and excellent ensemble casts – attracting critical plaudits and larger audiences than can be stomached by the legions of haters hostile to any broadly naturalistic representations of working-class tribulations. Its success may be attributed partly to pandering to a gamut of soap-opera stereotypes, magnified to fill the screen with misfortune, bad behaviour and worse decisions – concentrating on hero/anti-hero thematics and the difficulties of kin- and friend-ship in extremis – and also a distinctiveness borne of diminishing returns from related genres jostling for superficial sensationalism and vacuous populism.
Counterintuitively, though, The Street’s overarching connectivity chronicles the ongoing erosion of neighbourliness – except when heartstrings need tugging either way, whereupon other episodes’ characters pop up dispensing passing wisdom, concern and/or bile. Witness this season’s bookend turns from decent-bloke central typecasting by Bob Hoskins (pub landlord standing up to local hardman) and Timothy Spall (cabbie “big soft lump who’d do anything for anybody”) – the former’s mates melting away when money and power trump respect, the latter loved by everyone but respected by none. In between, strong performances by Anna Friel (single-parent prostitute getting son into good school) and Jonas Armstrong (squaddie disfigured in Afghanistan rebuilding his life) illustrate moral relativism and ambivalent respectability among the near-and-dear – with only scripting wit and acting commitment rescuing subsequent unconvincing tales of tediously unredeemable masculinity (Joseph Mawle’s racist bully transformed by Polish immigrants; Stephen Graham’s craven alcoholic failing Downs Syndrome son). In the background throughout, however, wives and mothers persevere – with their comparably complex intensity never explored beyond its salience to sundry male malaises.
True enough, for better or for worse, endlessly patient and forgiving, fiercely loyal women populate many of our families – plus, with community cohesion evaporating, where else would newly-emergent mutuality be likely to gestate? But there’s surely a limit, beyond which credulity won’t stretch – exemplified in episode 4’s Black bureaucrat even tolerating the pathetic xenophobe, let alone contemplating a relationship. Acknowledging generations of bigotry, poverty and ignorance, she doesn’t hate him for his prejudices: after all, “you wouldn’t blame a homeless crippled beggar for having bad teeth”. Undeniably fair comment, but, as elsewhere with McGovern (not least his breakthrough Cracker), sophisticated historical, socio-political patterns relentlessly translate into self-indulgent individualist guilt-tripping. Obsessing over our infinite compulsive flaws may suit conventional dramatic formulae (as well as those of inadequately-lapsed Catholicism), but frankly, sometimes, you couldn’t give a damn – especially when the urgency of collective (rather than privatised) redemptive potential is so systematically obscured.
Review first published in Freedom, Vol. 70, No. 17, September 2009.
For other reviews and essays by Tom Jennings, see:
www.variant.org.uk
www.tomjennings.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk