Thursday, 3 October 2013

Review: Sky Living's 'Drama Matters' - THE PSYCHOPATH NEXT DOOR

Thursday, 3 October 2013

written by Julie Rutterford | directed by Kieron J. Walsh

There's inadvertent good timing in this drama premièring days after Dexter ended in the UK, as it's cut from similar cloth. The first in a five-part 'Drama Matters' season from digital channel Sky Living, The Psychopath Next Door concerns Dr Eve Wright (Pushing Daisies' Anna Friel); a glamorous and confident young psychiatrist who moves into a tight-knit suburb and proceeds to cause quiet mayhem.

There's burgeoning potential in The Psychopath Next Door, so one assumes writer Julie Rutterford (Ripper Street) is optimistic a full series will be commissioned, given how this "single drama" abruptly ends without providing much resolution. I'd be happy to sample a few more hours at least, although this opener didn't quite manage to live up to the promise of its fun concept. I wanted a smart, sexy, chilling Dexter-meets-Desperate Housewives hybrid, but didn't get it. The writing wasn't snappy or interesting enough, and narrative tended to dive into cliché. However, there were moments where a much better show could be seen struggling to bloom.

I liked how sociopath Eve can't help causing mischief, as she doesn't seem particularly keen on killing anyone. That would have been the most obvious direction to take this drama, and given Anna Friel's link to Brookside's "body under the patio" plot, it was perhaps natural to expect a body count. But that wasn't to be. Instead, Eve was happier meddling in people's affairs and causing upset, without anyone quite knowing she's behind their problems. The most outwardly nasty she got was masterminding a "car accident" so that her neighbour, keen jogger Marianne (Eva Birthistle), was unable to lead their group's daily run. She did this by persuading a foreign barman to reverse his car into Marianne, presumably repaying him with sex later. Or agreeing to keep his expired visa a secret from the authorities.

The fact Eve wasn't always so hands-on was one of the episode's better judgements, as it would otherwise be ridiculous if she was leaving a conspicuous trail of blood around town. Eve's less a murderer, more a manipulator; leading the foolish down a path of gradual insanity. Having clearly moved house numerous times, the only trail she's leaving behind is of neighbour's ruined lives.

Writing about The Psychopath Next Door actually makes me appreciate the episode more in retrospect, or what is possible with the idea, but at the time it was oddly inert after a promising start. This was a modestly budgeted hour of drama, so there were times when it needed more visual impact to obscure some woolly writing. Anna Friel is great casting because she's a pretty but slightly unnerving on-screen presence; but her character lacked the flair and humour of a similar role Ruth Wilson plays in Luther (an actress who also shares Friel's odd beauty so much they could be sisters).

Maybe the biggest issue with The Psychopath Next Door, but which could be rectified if it goes to series, is a question of its anti-hero's motives. Eve simply moved in and started making plans to supplant Marianne as doyen of her female clique. There were hints of a relationship breakdown with her distant mother, and the mystery of an office worker Eve appears to have driven insane, but nothing concrete. Eve was simply having twisted fun with the folks around her; particularly Marianne's precocious daughter, who's the only person aware Eve's mad.

Overall, I still hope this drama becomes a full-blown series. It has potential and has been well-cast, but creator Julie Rutterford gets a firm grasp on what it wants to achieve. Her background in both crime drama (Ashes to Ashes) and family comedy (Trollied) occasionally battled for supremacy, which made things feel unbalanced. Comedy and horror go well together, but it takes a very skilled hand. A lot of The Psychopath Next Door felt jokey and light-hearted (given how there wasn't any blood and killing), so it ended up reminding me of Nighty Night without as many laughs... but then Friel flashes her vagina to a teenage girl, and a woman undergoes unnecessary shock treatment therapy!

There are issues of tone and intention here, for sure, but nothing that can't be solved. I hope The Psychopath Next Door is allowed more than just this housewarming party.

1 October 2013 | Sky Living