Has Sunday night TV become quietly subversive?
To glance at the schedules you may not think so. Period drama still dominates ITV’s prime time slots and the BBC gives us The Antiques Roadshow and a crime thriller at 9pm. So far so predictable.
But look closer and you will observe two prime time dramas that break the mould in their own way. The brilliant Undercover, airing its second episode last night, boasts two black lead characters and a successful black family at the heart of its narrative. For a BBC drama, this is groundbreaking stuff. Not to mention the excellent, original plot line that exposes in the most unapologetic and blistering manner the endemic racism of the Metropolitan Police of the 1990s.
Over on ITV at the same time is the second series of Home Fires, another favourite of mine. It seems like pretty harmless period fare to the idle observer, but Home Fires has a predominantly female cast. There’s no male lead in sight. It is the Second World War from the female perspective. Although not as hard-hitting as Undercover, in its own quiet way, it is equally as subversive.
What is also unusual, are two prime schedule dramas; one a thriller and the other about war, which do not include a parade of violence, torture or shocking stunts to keep viewers coming back for more. Both shows rely on strong writing and powerful performances by their cast instead. This is also subversive in its own way, violent drama for thrills having become the mainstream in recent years.
However this revolution has occurred in Sunday night telly, long may it continue. As viewers we want original, human stories, we like to be made to think and reasses our ideas about the world. We don’t object to lead characters being black, Asian or female. It’s the programme makers and commissioning editors who are frightened of that. Make this type of drama part of the mainstream, then no one will say it is subversive to produce top quality, representative and honest drama in the future.