Television: ‘Prey’ delivers thrill of the chase while bingo documentary hits the jackpot

If ‘Prey’ is gripping drama, ‘Bingo Nights’ offers another sort of tension, and ‘The Savage Eye’ is welcome back

 John Simm as Det Sgt Marcus Farrow in ‘Prey’. Photograph Ben Blackall/ITV/Red Production Company

John Simm as Det Sgt Marcus Farrow in ‘Prey’. Photograph Ben Blackall/ITV/Red Production Company

Sat, May 3, 2014, 01:00

John Simm isn’t Dr Richard Kimble, he’s decent copper Marcus Farrow, but echoes of The Fugitive roar throughout Prey (UTV, Monday), a gripping crime drama that matches the BBC’s superb Line of Duty for nail-biting tension.

He’s an ordinary bloke, has two kids and is separated from the wife – she’s moved on, he hasn’t. Then she and one of their sons are murdered, the evidence points to Farrow and he’s charged. While being transported to prison he’s stabbed with a pen, which is much bloodier than you’d think, by a fellow prisoner – “Oi, you’re the bloke that killed that kiddie” – and in the ensuing chaos he escapes.

In the words of the narrator of The Fugitive, one of US TV’s most famous drama series, “the accident freed him to hide in lonely desperation, freed him to search for a one-armed man he saw leave the scene of the crime”. Except there isn’t a one-armed man in Prey – although Farrow runs through the grim-looking streets clutching his arm, which I like to think of as a geeky homage.

Farrow suspects his colleague and mate (Craig Parkinson) is involved in the murders. Parkinson, incidentally, was also an unlikeable, dodgy copper in Line of Duty. Another parallel with that series is Prey’s slick editing, which smoothly ratchets up the pace and the tension.

The motivation for the murders appears (or maybe not: the plot gets quite twisty) to lie in an old investigation involving the Turkish mafia.

I like Prey: it’s fast and gripping, the dialogue is gritty and smart, and its characters are well defined. Simm is predictably terrific, his face a monument to misery, as is Rosie Cavaliero, as the head of the murder team. She’s too quick to arrest Farrow, spends her spare time stalking her old boyfriend and stuffing her face from the office vending machine, and so we’re happy to root for Farrow, to believe that only he can track down the culprit by the end of part three.

It’s nearly as tense down at the bingo (Bingo Nights, TV3, Wednesday), where the punters, mostly women of all ages (although more towards the mature end), wait for their numbers to come up: legs 11, two fat ladies and all the rest. Not that the prizes are usually huge. “I won €2. Someone shouted up, ‘Buy yourself a bag of chips,’ ” says one winner, laughing.

It’s good, clean fun where everyone drinks minerals and arrives with sucky sweets, the sort of night-time entertainment that doesn’t usually grab media attention.

The first of Jill Walshe’s two-part documentary captures the community spirit underpinning bingo nights, particularly outside Dublin, in halls where everyone knows everyone else, in Waterford, Wexford, Limerick and Galway. As 78-year-old Angela, who’s been playing bingo for 40 years in the GAA hall in rural Tynagh, Co Galway, says, “If you don’t get to bingo they’d think you were dead, the way they go on. It’s a lovely feeling to feel that you’re missed.”

The Dublin bingo at the National Stadium is a more daunting affair: the boxing ring in the centre of the hall and the harsh lighting somehow set the tone. The prizes are bigger, but the regulars are going for the same reason: “to get out of the house”, “it’s not the pub”,“to meet my friends”.

Ann Smith, who has been calling the numbers for decades, kicks off proceedings by bizarrely rapping The Numbers on Your Balls, the old-fashionedly risque bingo anthem. Every night, somewhere in the country, 100,000 people play bingo, according to this warm-hearted, well-made observational documentary, and I can see why. It’s good to see TV3 broadening its focus from films about kidnapping and murder.

Kudos too for RTÉ for sticking with The Savage Eye (RTÉ Player), David McSavage’s sometimes lacerating satire, which is back for a fourth series. It premieres this week on the online service – a first for the station – before airing from next Monday on RTÉ Two.

When McSavage nails it there’s no other comedian on TV currently delivering such an edgy, often spectacularly vulgar take on Irish society. He’s especially sharp when kicking at the pillars of the establishment, such as the church, the Government, teachers, the Garda or RTÉ Radio’s Liveline. (His Joe Duffy for this series is a disturbing rat-faced vampire, a northside Nosferatu. It’s so extreme that McSavage must hate Liveline on some deep, apocalyptic level.)

The stand-out funny sketches are his fresher, more conventional ones: Daniel Day-Lewis method-working at his hobby of shoemaking, or others featuring overprotective middle-class parents. But about half of the satire gets buried under McSavage’s palpable anger and some are too surreal to arrive at any discernible satirical point, such as his sweary Goth newsreader with a knife sticking out of her head.

A 50-50 lame-to-laugh rate isn’t bad, it’s just that his duds are mystifying: there is a sketch with some coke-tooting advertising executives (someone tell McSavage that the 1980s wants its cliches back); and one wonders why he’s bothering trying to wrench a laugh out of Hector (too easy) or Pat Kenny’s TV style (he’s not on TV any more).

Similarly, McSavage’s relentlessly unfunny President for Life sketches seem to be there simply because someone told him a long time ago he does a good Mary Robinson and he can’t quite let it go.

His racist, homophobic, misogynistic publican is so offensive I find him hard to watch, but then bad taste is relative. And any sketch that has a little boy parroting “I’ll cut off his genitals and push them in his mouth”, or a little girl saying lines about wanting to kill a pregnant woman, to rip the foetus out of her stomach and wear it as a hat, goes way beyond crude. This is too perverse to be even remotely funny.

Engendering a feeling of discomfort is what strong satire should do, but using children in a sketch in that way seems wrong. It’s also ironic that the theme of McSavage’s first episode is what a terrible place Ireland is to be a child.

McSavage’s is like an angry man in charge of a machine gun. Sometimes he hits a recognisable mark and the impact is spectacular. Sometimes he’s so far off that he kills any chance of delivering a laugh.

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