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TV: The Curse and This is Going to Hurt

Benjie Goodhart / 04 February 2022

The Curse, a fun, escapist crime caper with an evocative early 80s setting, starts on Channel 4, and on BBC One new medical drama This is Going to Hurt follows the life of a junior doctor.

The Curse 1/6, Sunday 6th February, 10pm, Channel 4

Let’s face it, there’s lots to get fed up about at the moment. If you want to pop the heating up a degree, you have to sell a kidney. Russia is being annoying (there, that’s my considered geopolitical take on proceedings). That whole Covid thing is ever so slightly irksome. Government work meetings seem to be veritable festivals of booze-swilling bacchanalia, and yet still I can’t get an invite. And, worst of all, my daughter’s class is planning the summer camping trip, and I’m already filled with gloom at the prospect of sleeping in a tent and using neanderthal toilet facilities.

And yet I find myself peculiarly light of heart today. Why? Because we are in a golden age of television. Specifically this week. In fact, specifically the two shows I’m writing about today, which are completely marvellous. Now, I know that two shows can’t constitute a golden age, but I would say (a) that they are indicative of the way traditional broadcasters are upping their game in response to the threat from the big streaming services, and (b) I’m choosing to be a bit hyperbolic because I’m trying to cheer myself up about having to go camping in five months’ time.

Anyoldhoo, first up, we have The Curse, a new six-part series about a bunch of small-time crooks who get a little more than they bargained for. It’s written by James De Frond and Tom Davis, the latter of whom has become something of a hero of mine. His podcast, Wolf and Owl, which he does with Romesh Ranganathan, is a beacon of kindness, humanity and hilarity, and has become staple listening for me and the dog on our daily walk. To be fair, the dog hasn’t shown much interest. It’s difficult competing with squirrels.

It would have broken my heart if this show had been a stinker, but trust me, it’s utterly divine. Set in one of London’s less salubrious neighbourhoods in the early 80s, the action centres around a group of would-be criminals who are to organised crime what my daughter’s goldfish is to international trade. Davis plays Big Mick, a gentle giant with all the intellect of the aforementioned goldfish, and a dodgy hairdo even by the ropey standards of the 1980s.

His partners in crime are a sweet but cowardly café owner Albert (beautifully played by Allan Mustafa), a hapless getaway driver called Phil, who insists on referring to himself as ‘the Captain’, and Sidney, a part-time security guard who has had a nervous breakdown after being dumped. Behind the scenes, the strings are being pulled by Albert’s wife Natasha (Emer Kenny) who is a sort of modern-day Lady Macbeth, if Lady Macbeth had shoulder pads and bouffant hair.

Things begin to go awry when Phil brings in some proper hardened criminals on the job. Joey and Crazy Clive are two people you would not want to meet in a dark alley – or indeed a well-lit shopping mall. Generally speaking, anyone called Crazy Clive should probably be avoided. Actually, anyone called Clive should probably be avoided.

This is magnificently fun, escapist fare – a crime caper in the tradition of everything from Guy Ritchie to The Lavender Hill Mob. The 80s are gloriously evoked, all dodgy fashion and pubs filled with cigarette smoke, with an air of poverty-fuelled desperation underlying proceedings. There’s a lot squeezed into this first episode – including a killer twist at the end. If the rest of the series is as joyous as this opener, it should give us all a reason to smile. I might download the lot and take it camping, to be enjoyed with a warm lager and the existential whiff of despair.

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This Is Going to Hurt 1/7, Tuesday 8th February, 9pm, BBC One

The problem with medicine is that we’re entrusting our lives to people who are clearly absolutely nuts. I mean, why would any sane person want to go into medicine? The hours are beyond horrendous. Your life is not your own. Patients are routinely horrible to you. And you’re surrounded by people who insist on being ill, or in pain, or with weird growths or open sores or what have you. You have to wear weird surgical scrubs. And now, in this glorious new age we live in, you have demonstrators comparing you to Hitler because you want to vaccinate people to save their lives.

Plus there’s the problem of making a mistake. If I make a mistake in my job, an actor’s name gets mis-spelled, or a programme is billed as being on a Tuesday instead of a Wednesday. But if a doctor makes a mistake… well, there’s that whole rather inconvenient death thing. And so we give them literally the most important job in the world, and then subject them to acute stress in chronically short-staffed and underfunded conditions, and chuck in a hefty dose of sleep deprivation to add to the mix. Seriously, doctors are nuts. Intelligent and compassionate, but nuts.

I was reminded of this watching the opening episode of This Is Going to Hurt, the new seven-part comedy drama on BBC One based on the real-life diaries of a junior doctor, Adam Kay. The lead character, not surprisingly called Adam, is a doctor on a maternity ward. That must be lovely, right? The indescribable joy of seeing a new life brought into the world. Delighted parents holding their perfect little creations, so full of hope and wonder.

Yeah. It’s not like that. The first five minutes of this series is roughly as stressful as the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. Having woken up in his car, where he passed out with exhaustion the previous night, Adam is making his way into the hospital when he finds Andrea in full labour, and with a baby’s arm already, well, visible. I’m no obs-and-gynae expert, but I don’t think the arm is meant to come out first. Cue pandemonium.

And the pandemonium never really seems to stop. Any moments when things do quieten down are filled with exhaustion and self-reproach, and the donning of fresh scrubs. In the course of what turns out to be a very bad day, Adam has to deal with a racist mother-to-be, a sneering head of department (the excellent Alex Jennings), a terrified intern and a pregnant hypochondriac who is worried because she has itchy teeth. Oh, and lots of rather gruesome surgery.

All of this makes the show sound about as much fun as a caesarean without anaesthetic. But the show’s really masterful trick is that it manages to combine pathos and tension with some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments of comedy. Adam occasionally breaks the fourth wall and addresses the camera directly – a plot device used so artfully in Fleabag. And, as with Fleabag, this is a show that is absolutely brimming with heart and humanity, by turns outrageously funny and shatteringly sad. ‘

It is – and I don’t say this lightly – an absolute triumph, and is destined to be one of the TV hits of 2022. More of the same please.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 5th February

Six Nations: Scotland v England, 4pm, BBC One: The annual rugby union tournament gets underway this weekend, with Scotland hosting England at Murrayfield in what is normally a fiercely contested fixture. ITV is showing the Ireland v Wales and France v Italy games, too.

Sunday 6th February

The Queen: 70 Glorious Years, 6pm, BBC One: Today, the Queen becomes the first monarch to celebrate a platinum jubilee. This documentary, narrated by Julie Walters, features contributions from David Attenborough, Paul McCartney, Lulu, Trevor McDonald, Brian Blessed, Cameron Mackintosh, Alan Bennett, Len Goodman, Floella Benjamin, Twiggy, Cliff Richard, Alesha Dixon, Bob Geldof, Lenny Henry and Sue Johnston.

Chloe 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: Thriller, starring Erin Doherty as a woman who seeks an escape from her miserable life in obsessively following a far more rich and successful woman on social media. Continues tomorrow.

Monday 7th February

No return 1/4, 9pm, ITV: Sheridan Smith, surely the busiest actor in the country, is back on our screens in this harrowing new drama about a mother whose son is charged with committing a serious crime while on a family holiday in Turkey.

60 Days with the Gypsies 1/2, 9pm, Channel 4: Explorer Ed Stafford spends two months with Gypsy and Traveller communities across the country, as he delves beneath the stereotypes and reveals the challenges they face living in modern-day Britain.

Tuesday 8th February

AstraZeneca: A Vaccine for the World, 9pm, BBC Two: Fergus Walsh unpicks the extraordinary of the vaccine, from its astonishingly fast development to the problems encountered on its journey to becoming a key element in the fight against the pandemic.

Wednesday 9th February

Mega Mansion Hunters 1/3, 10pm, Channel 4: Documentary following the employees of a luxury estate agent as they try to sell some of the most opulent homes in the country. An excuse for a spot of property porn, if nothing else…

Thursday 10th February

Who Killed Billie-Jo? 9pm, Channel 5: Feature-length documentary examining the unsolved case of 13-year-old Billie-Jo Jenkins, killed on the patio of her seaside home in 1997.

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