Saturday, 9 August 2014

Review: BBC1's WALTER - a loose charm, but zero laughs

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Fresh from playing a cop in Line of Duty and a dead cop in Ashes to Ashes, Adrian Dunbar's back as cop Walter Gambon in the one-off comedy-drama WALTER, written by Ruby Solomon. The most interesting thing about Walter is that Solomon's actually the pseudonym of Kevin Lygo, boss of ITV Studios—who make the show, for broadcast on the BBC. I have my doubts Walter was commissioned purely on the strength of Lygo's script, however, given how terrible it was. When drama fails to grip and comedy fails to make you laugh, you can confidently chalk this one up as a jobs for the boys misfire. I fully expect a six or eight part series to follow, of course.

One sub-genre that often gets overlooked on UK television is the crime procedural that doesn't take itself too seriously. I struggle to even recall one beyond the short-lived Vexed, but the U.S has plenty of them swirling around their schedules. Programmes like Monk, for example, which have appealing characters, strong whodunit mysteries, and lashing of humour. Walter wants to be something similar, but despite spotting a gap in the marketplace there wasn't much to recommend this.

D.I Walter Gambon is a slightly grumpy, quietly sarcastic, old-fashioned, but warm-hearted man. In this episode, he inherits a case belonging to a colleague who jumped in front of a train in the teaser. The deceased cop was working a case with an undercover partner, who's so deep undercover they don't know who he is (probably the best joke of the hour). Walter's ordered around by neurotic Chief Superintendent Addison (Harry Hadden-Paton), who wants results, and doesn't have much faith in Walter's laconic style. He also has a young, Welsh partner in ditsy DC Anne Hopkins (Utopia's Alexandra Roach).

There were some decent ideas and flourishes in Walter, which only made its failing sting harder. I quite liked Dunbar and Roach as partners, plus Walter is a single father to a precocious posh daughter (who's practically his consultant at times), and a big fuss wasn't made of the fact a lead character's revealed to be gay.

However, the storyline was very boring and wasn't helped by how Walter himself is a very laid-back individual. I was almost falling asleep in places, and the hope for some comedy keeping me alert was shortlived. Kevin Lygo (sorry, Ruby Solomon) seemed to rely on very simple, ordinary jokes. The kind of jokes that arise in real life, actually (like commenting about the pointlessness of a man drinking a Diet Coke with a bag of crisps), but that stuff's not good enough for television. Jokes need to be funnier and cleverer, but Walter's gags were often extremely weak... like they were just tacked onto the script after it had been written. It wasn't a funny show in any deeper way, it just had these limp attempts to make you chuckle.

Walter won't be back next week, as this was a pilot the BBC have aired to test the water. For me, it was a resounding flop, but a Friday night BBC audience at 9pm may think otherwise. If a series is forthcoming, maybe employing some comedy writers would help wrestle the basic idea into something fun for a Sunday evening. But if we never hear another peep from DI Walter Gambon, I won't lose any sleep over it.

written by Ruby Solomon | directed by Catherine Gosling Fuller | 8 August 2014 | BBC1