Move along, nothing to laugh at here

What has happened to Caroline Aherne? ‘The Security Men’, the new comedy by the ‘Royle Family’ star, deserved to be locked up


Best to gloss over The Security Men (UTV, Friday) with only a passing bout of handwringing about what could have happened to Caroline Aherne, the brilliant writer and creator of The Roy le Family , to make her go so thoroughly off the boil.

Her new comedy has a classic caper set-up. In a shopping mall, after hours, four security men – Brendan O’Carroll, Bobby Ball, Peter Wight and Dean Andrews – must come up with a wheeze to conceal the fact that a shop in the centre was burgled on their watch. So far so promising, but the larky premise clashes with the one-joke, one-dimensional characters.

So there’s O’Carroll’s Jimmy and his repetitive, witless and crude musings about his colleague who is a carer for his mother – “Would you wash your mammy?” a disgusted Jimmy quizzes anyone he meets, and that’s about as funny as it gets – to Bobby Ball’s Duckers and his endless passing around of topless photographs of his wife.

It’s comedy curdled, with an unpleasant whiff of nastiness. When The Security Men was announced, in 2011, it was intended to be a four-part series. I can see why it took so long to limp on to the screen and why it’s now a one-off.

Television documentaries like John Lonergan’s Circus (RTÉ One, Thursday) usually follow a cosy narrative arc: deeply troubled but ultimately likable teens are taken out of their environment and saved by a do-gooder with a plan. There’ll be hiccups and challenges, and a few tears and tantrums, but ultimately the viewer’s heart is warmed by the broad hint of happy ever after. But there’s nothing chocolate-box cute about John Lonergan’s Circus , a slice of chaotic, dysfunctional and poverty-riven teenage life we rarely see.

The idea, devised by the Irish Times Crime Correspondent, Conor Lally, is a twist on a familiar format. The eight teens, aged 15 to 17, and all from disadvantaged backgrounds, are driven away to Belfast to join a circus school. The idea is that over 12 weeks, under the guidance of Lonergan, the former governor of Mountjoy, and the community-theatre expert Mabel Troy, they’ll learn life skills and develop new attitudes through play and performance.

It’s difficult going – for the viewer. The gobby teens are self-absorbed and unlikeable, and in the first episode they were mostly not bothered. When they were brought to Paris to see the circus and the skills they would be learning they were bored and uninterested: not a great start.

Just when your patience with them was about to wear out, the programme’s director, Judy Kelly, followed some of them home – to parts of Dublin that will never feature in a tourism campaign – where one boy talked of his parents being in and out of prison and another of the death of her mother and being brought up by a father who has also spent most of his life inside.

“Circumstances of your birth have a significant bearing on your life,” said Lonergan. It was a mantra he developed in his former career, where he saw the bulk of inmates coming from just six pockets of Dublin. He cuts a formal, authoritative figure in his suit – no down-with-the-kids trackie top for him – and with his lectures about punctuality and respect he’s like an old-school headmaster. Episode one was tough. It’ll be some trick to get these eight to do, well, anything. I’ll be watching to see if it happens, though.

A new Swedish crime thriller with more parts than a Swiss clock and on a Saturday – a night when there’s nothing worth watching anyway? Arne Dahl: The Blinded Man (BBC Four, Saturday) didn’t have to sell itself to us Scandi-noir fans, but one episode in and I’ve had enough.

Arne Dahl is a prolific Swedish crime writer; the adaption of his The Blinded Man should be a winner, and not just because the victims of Stockholm’s latest serial killer are the ul timate modern baddies: high -flying financiers. But this old-fashioned-looking drama is full of stereotypes and crime-drama cliches, and it could have been filmed in the 1980s it looked so poorly lit and stagey.

Nothing in this is kept simple: the victims aren’t just bankers but also fraudsters, rapists and members of a secretive brotherhood that is laying it on a bit thick. If a postmortem revealed one of them had horns and a tail I wouldn’t have been surprised.

The team of officers set up to catch the murderer inevitably includes a maverick: Viggo (Paul Hjelm), who’s all beardy and moody and not as remotely subtle or complex as the characters we’re used to in The Killing or The Bridge . And there’s the inevitable appearance of the Estonian mafia in a disused factory; they’re brutes in nasty-looking leather jackets with a slick-looking leader chasing a policeman.

The translation is distractingly awful in a Google Translate sort of way. One character talked about “not caring a jot”, a line you’d have to be wearing a codpiece and pantaloons to get away with.

So it seems the Scandinavians can make very ordinary crime dramas after all. Stick with Scott & Bailey (UTV, Thursday), which is unmissable this series for fully believable female characters and relationships, a grisly plot – borrowed from Fred West – and superb dialogue.

Series six of Mad Men (Sky Atlantic, Wednesday) started with Don and Megan in Hawaii – floppy hat, Ray-Bans and pop-art fabric all screaming 1967 hipster. It looked great, and Mad Men is as much about the look as anything, the bright sun contrasting with the gloom and existential angst hanging over the first two episodes, shown back to back, of the new series.

Don’s first word – after 11 minutes and the first of what felt like very many ad breaks – was “army”; his sketchy past is still clouding his vision of what to anyone else is a fabulously successful life. And he’s having it away with his neighbour’s wife – the man is a surgeon, small, bald and unattractive but a heroic lifesaver. By comparison, Don’s advertising career is worthless: a middle-age crisis in the making.

Sleazy Roger, already in the last series looking like yesterday’s man, is even more marginalised; Betty dyes her hair brunette, a final surrender to middle age and dull suburbia; and workaholic Peggy looks set to become the next Don Draper. And that, we’ve come to see, is not a good thing.

It needed more Joan, though, for the sass and spirit. She was hardly in this series opener. More Joan is always a good thing.