So, as I sit down to write this review, I’ve just spent around four hours working my way through Channel 4’s one-off drama series, The Fear. Due to my extensive TV watching schedule (which this week included the Champions League), I decided that I’d watch all four episodes of The Fear in a row after it had finished. It seemed like a good idea at the time, as the series looked interesting (despite the presence of Paul Nicholls in a key role; more on that later), with Peter Mullan as a former dodgy geezer turned legitimate businessman in Brighton, whose legacy is under threat as Albanians arrive in town looking to take over (it’s not clear if they are related to the Albanian shits that Liam Neeson so enjoys killing in Taken 2).
But unfortunately The Fear, even as a four part mini-series, gets repetitive and rather irritating over the course of its four hours, as Peter Mullan’s character, Richie Beckett, loses control as he succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease. When we first meet Richie, he’s handing over a check to a project intending to rebuild Brighton’s west pier. He gets doused in champagne, and as he’s heading to his car, he almost gets bumped into by a unicyclist. Later, the same unicyclist appears beside his car and Richie snaps, leaping out to give him a kicking, something he can’t remember when he’s asked about it afterwards.
There’s an interesting idea here, as Richie is trying to be a legitimate businessman, but faces a new threat as outsiders move into Brighton demanding their share, and has to try and juggle dealing with both as his mind starts to betray him, but The Fear layers it on too thick, with Richie having these violent episodes, flashbacks to a terrible crime from his youth, and moments of memory loss and confusion far too often throughout the almost four hours of the series. By the middle of the final episode (especially if you’ve watched the whole thing in one sitting), it’s an irritating distraction to the main story, leaving you wishing it would all just come to an end sooner rather than later.
For the most part, the acting and dialogue is fine in The Fear. Peter Mullan is playing a very Peter Mullan-y character (an angry Scottish man with a violent past he’s trying to move on from), and it’s a bit of a one-note performance as a result. It’s not that he’s a bad actor (he was brilliant in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur last year), but aside from the dementia he suffers, there’s not a lot here for him to do that you haven’t seen him doing before. The biggest problem acting-wise is Paul Nicholls as Cal, Richie’s oldest son. Not only does he get some really terrible dialogue (he refers to the police as ‘The Feds’ for some unknown reason), but it’s pretty clear that he’s just a rubbish actor, more suited to soap opera guff like Eastenders or Holby City than hard-hitting drama. He certainly doesn’t convince as a drug taking gangster, and most of his scenes take you out of the moment because of their awfulness.
The flashbacks Richie has throughout the series did nothing for me either, and it’s becoming a big problem in modern television as more and more shows stick them in there, whether they are really needed or not (and they almost always aren’t). TV shows have a long history of having flashback episodes, but Lost seems to have ‘inspired’ far too many shows to start sticking them in to fill the time. This year alone I’ve watched the BBC’s Hunted (which was terrible) and NBC’s Revolution (also terrible, but possibly redeemable) that feature flashbacks for one reason or another, and I’ve yet to feel like they help a show in the way that they did in Lost. Richie’s flashbacks are of a crime he committed with the help of some friends as a younger man. It was a deal to hide their drug money in legitimate business that went wrong and resulted in someone dying that shouldn’t have, and although The Fear does explain what happened and use that in one of its final scenes, it’s over-used as a plot device throughout, in the same way that Richie’s violent outbursts and memory losses are.
I don’t think The Fear was a total disaster, there are many things to like about it, but even with only four episodes, I just felt that it outstayed its welcome and would have worked better as a two hour film, rather than a four hour TV series. It just takes too long for it to reach its conclusion and that made the second half of it something of a struggle for me to get through. As I said earlier, the acting and dialogue, as well as the direction, is mostly fine, but the show was just a little heavy-handed in conveying its message. It was a worthy effort, but The Fear was nothing special.