Great – British – Drama. That’s the pitch. How’d it go? Not bad actually…

Two ‘flagship’ BBC dramas are currently playing out on Beeb TV. Paula on Beeb2, and Broken on Beeb1. Two gritty, contentious, substantial looks into life in “broke Britain”.

Paula, the title being an ingenious analogy making cryptic reference to the show’s lead character, Paula… is about a chemistry teacher managing a disastrous love life; cheating with the married P.E instructor and sleeping with 50 percent of the men who walk through her front door, whilst having to take care of her down and out brother.

Running parallel to Paula’s story is the tale of James. A down on his luck builder trying to make it by with three children by two different women who all live in the same one bedroom flat above a cabbys’. James and Paula’s stories will become entangled when Paula hires James to fix up her basement and James becomes one of the 50 percent of men to enter Paula’s house who she sleeps with. 50 percent isn’t a joke. Five men walk into Paula’s house throughout the entire series. A policeman, a teacher, three builders and a little boy…

From there things go a little crazy. Paula’s going to have to deal with her brother being burned alive, experimenting with injecting morphine, having a hallucinative psychotic murderer simultaneously fall in love with her and try to kill her, and burying someone alive under her basement.

The show’s a breath of fresh air. Made up of wonderfully flawed characters, who are all at their wits end, whilst containing some great comedic moments, using my favourite word in the English language, ‘fuck’, to good skill and effect.

Whilst Paula has finished (aww…) Broken is still going. A six part series about faith, diligence, and the degradation of society, with Father Sean Bean (Michael Kerrigan) helplessly and haplessly trying to guide his community through the valley of the shadow of failed promises and incompetent public services.

We’re up to episode three now, and, so far, we’ve been introduced to Christina Fitzsimmons (Anna Friel), who melodramatically loses her job by getting punched in the face, then hides her dead mother’s body so she can withdraw the pension and feed her three children. Ep two focuses more on Father Sean Bean who, in not picking up the phone after a long day listening to people’s woes, indirectly causes a psychotic son to be shot dead by police after holding a knife to his throat.

I say, ‘gritty contentious substantial looks into Britain’, and both series kinda are. Paula felt genuine, up to the end of the second episode, just before she starts firing a gun off in a restaurant. And Broken uses themes that pull at all the heart strings. Crisis of faith, trying to make it by, suicide. But both programmes kind of go askew a bit.

From the end of ep two onwards Paula falls into the realms of the bizarre, while Broken comes across just a touch ridiculous, with Friel walking around the streets of her community with tomato ketchup smudged over her top lip to make it look like blood, and the kid with the knife waving it around on the spot in his front gardening then getting shot down by police who are heavier armed then anti-terrorist units. Broken just feels a little squished. But it’s worth watching to see Father Sean Bean turn in a career best performance as the conflicted, tormented Father Sean Bean…

Put it this way, considering Paula’s finished and Broken’s still got someway to go (Tuesday nights, 9pm, Beeb One folks), I’d rather wait for my computer to warm up and click on iPlayer to watch Paula, than flick over the TV to watch Broken. But you could watch both… Two good attempts at holding attention spans.

Broken (BBC One 9pm Tuesday)
Paula (BBC iPlayer)

By Harry Jamshidian

Daydreaming scriptwriter and part-time reviewer living in Kingston.