Next of Kin: Vivid terrorist drama soaked in detail
The series’ strengths are its characters, its realism and its jagged street geography
In the opening episode of Next of Kin (TV3, Monday, 9pm), two characters speak to each other with an endearing closeness from across a great distance.
The first is an elegant London doctor, Mona (Archie Panjabi), bearing a cake box, whose black cab is crawling towards a London traffic disruption. The second is her brother, Kareem (Navin Chowdhry), also an elegant doctor, whose cab is churning up dust as its speeds through Lahore in Pakistan.
Their conversation moves as easily as the shots flash into one another, joking about family and favouritism, before it judders into sudden concern: “Just stay safe, yeah?”
Those are his words, because London is again under terror attack. But the grim irony of the drama is that he is the one rushing towards horror, where a camera phone trained on his body is somehow more ghoulish than a gun, and its effect will be felt far and wide.
So begins a new six-part drama from Paul Rutman and Natasha Narayan, building up in brisk detail a fascinatingly complicated picture. The large Shirani family are a picture of modern Britain, an easy integration of Pakistani traditions and modern London living.
But this is under pressure. “Knew it would be one of our lot,” scoffs a cynical brother, Omar, when a Muslim woman is revealed as the orchestrator of the London attack. “They’re not my lot,” replies his young, gay sister, Ani (Kiran Sonia Sawar).
But suspicion, like technology, moves fast. One of the most striking scenes, under Justin Chadwick’s arresting direction, features Mona learning of her brother’s execution by watching it, impulsively and helplessly, on her phone, splitting the scene between filmic slow-motion and crude handheld footage.
Later, when her stunned mother (a commanding Shaban Azwi) watches a vertiginous Islamophobia of media comment, framed dead centre in her living room, the show seems critically aware of the propaganda of images.
That may be why it finds room in almost every circumstance to provide the humanity of detail and dialogue. As Mona, the excellent Archie Panjabi (the scene-stealer from The Good Wife and The Fall) is thrust into something like a detective story, searching for her missing and perhaps radicalised nephew, while her family falls under suspicion.
But the strength of the series already is in its character clues, vivid and unforced, which lie in the surprising realism of a doctor and lobbyist’s modest London home, or the city’s detailed and jagged street geography, to a subtly prejudicial line of police questioning or the well-observed stress lines among three generations living together under one roof.
Such well-wrought, persuasive detail is refreshing to find in a fast-paced TV drama, and it is also discreetly political. You see yourself in this family’s connections and its dizzying crisis. This is our lot.