TV Review: A matter of getting the chemistry right for Mr Church and Mr White

As Breaking Bad makes an explosive return, David Walliams’s new sitcom is less positively charged

Explosive, violent and surreal: Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

Explosive, violent and surreal: Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

Fri, Aug 16, 2013, 17:48

You know when you miss a crucial episode of your favourite TV show, and now you don’t know how the crew came to be stranded on that desert planet, or why Britney slapped Beyoncé at Kylie’s engagement party? Well, it’s too bad TV3 cancelled its planned transmission of The Night Ireland Went Bust on Tuesday, because it would have been nice to learn how the hell the government of the day allowed a bunch of bankers to hold the entire country to ransom – and then scoot off to Marbella on the Nama tab.

Every episode of the award-winning Breaking Bad (Netflix) is crucial, and as this explosive, violent and surreal series heads towards its conclusion, viewers wouldn’t dream of missing a moment of the nefarious goings-on in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Until it comes to regular TV, you’ll need to sign up to Netflix to follow the moral descent of Walter White, the chemistry teacher turned meth dealer turned murderer played to ambiguous near-perfection by Bryan Cranston.

The fifth and final series is divided into two mini-seasons of eight episodes each. At the end of the first of those seasons, shown in September 2012, Walter’s brother-in-law Hank, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, found a Walt Whitman book, Leaves of Grass, at Walter’s house and saw the inscription inside.

The first episode of this final season, Blood Money, opens with a bedraggled Walter pulling up at his house, now derelict and fenced off. The inside of the house is gutted and covered in graffiti, his meth-dealer code name, Heisenberg, scrawled on the living-room wall.

It’s a flash-forward: we rewind to the moment Hank has twigged his brother-in-law is the shadowy figure he’s been hunting.

Meanwhile, Walter is feeling sick – his cancer has returned – and his partner Jesse is feeling conscience-stricken. Becoming increasingly unhinged, Jesse starts tossing wads of his “blood money” into his neighbours’ front gardens. The episode ends with a tense confrontation between Hank and Walter, and the scene is set for the mother of all series finales.

David Walliams is also a chemistry teacher in Big School (BBC One, Friday), but that’s where the resemblance with Walter White ends. Walliams plays Mr Church, the bumbling, uptight deputy head of chemistry at Greybridge School. He wouldn’t make an illicit firework, let alone a truckful of methamphetamine.

It’s the start of term, and Mr Church, disillusioned with teaching, has decided to hand in his resignation – until he meets the new French teacher, Ms Postern, played with ditzy aplomb by Catherine Tate.

And so begins the rivalry between the prim and proper Mr Church and the sleazy PE teacher Mr Gunn (Philip Glenister) for Ms Postern’s attentions. It’s got all the ingredients of a classic British sitcom – the closed environment, the unresolved tension, the characters straight from a stereotypical school staffroom – and Walliams and his cowriters are clearly nodding towards the golden age.

A few jokes are stale, but some well-set-up gags, while not laugh-out-loud funny, bring a wry smile. The fine cast – including Frances De La Tour as the boozy, splenetic headmistress – might just save this one, and Walliams proves he can be (slightly) funny without having to gross us out.

Although TV3 denied us the chance to find out how Ireland’s economy went down the pan, the new series of Dragons’ Den (BBC Two, Sunday) was a chance to see how our neighbours across the Irish Sea are dealing with recessionary times.

As a fresh batch of budding entrepreneurs do their best to extract funding for their business ideas, two new dragons take their seats in the den. Regulars Peter Jones, Duncan Bannatyne and Deborah Meaden are joined by a design-industry doyenne, Kelly Hoppen, and a cloud-computing wizard, Piers Linney.

The pitches are getting more outlandish, and often desperate – one pair performed a jingle for the dragons’ (well-concealed) delight. Another chap, Ross, cooked up his Bare-Naked Noodles and served them to the dragons, but Hoppen picked apart his claims that they were gluten-free. “I’m allergic to gluten, so if I eat this and swell up . . .” Ross, whose wife had suffered her third miscarriage and was supporting him while he tried to get his business off the ground, found the pressure too much and had to leave the room in tears.

For this series, the stairs have been replaced by a clanking steel lift, and Ross had to wait for the doors to clang open before he could step outside and compose himself. When he walked back in, Jones told him his noodles tasted like “baby food” but made him an offer anyway. “This is personally very emotional for you,” said Jones, “but you’re not here for sympathy – you’re here to pitch a business idea.”

The battle between two separated parents of a sick child in the documentary You’re Killing My Son: The Mum Who Went on the Run (Channel 4, Tuesday) was both chilling and challenging to watch. Challenging because it forced you to look at the issue from both sides; chilling because it quickly became clear that the mum in question had become disconnected from the reality of her small child’s cancer.

When doctors removed a large brain tumour from seven-year-old Neon, they advised immediate chemotherapy to destroy remaining cancer cells. Neon’s mum, Sally, wanted to explore other options and became convinced that alternative therapies would cure her son’s cancer.

Ben wanted his son to start chemo quickly. “Cancer is invasive – you can’t just ask it politely to leave,” he said.

When it was time for Neon to start chemo, Sally abducted him, and police found them hiding out at a well-known holistic- therapy centre. By that time, Neon’s tumour had started growing again, and Ben was given custody of Neon and his twin sister, Elektra. After the second tumour was removed, the NHS took Sally to court to get her to consent to chemo; losing the case, she turned to the media to make her increasingly flimsy argument for alternative treatment.

While programmemakers often edit to influence viewers, Sally came across as caring less about her son’s health than about her own crusade. And father Ben came across as an eternally patient, restrained and endlessly loving parent who stayed focused on what was important – keeping his son alive. The tragedy here was not Neon’s illness but his mother’s failure to face up to it.

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