Thursday, 19 March 2015

Ordinary Lies

New to BBC1 this week was Ordinary Lies (Tuesday night, 9pm) a six part drama series set in a car showroom in the North West, telling the individual stories of six staff members in turn and the lies that send their lives spiralling out of control.

Anyone with fond memories of other North West workplace dramas like Clocking Off and Making Out (or even last years Midlands set Truckers) will appreciate Ordinary Lies. It's written by Danny Brocklehurst and stars a plethora of familiar faces, many of whom have a track record of appearing in Coronation Street. There's Sally Lindsay, Michelle Keegan and Rebecca Callard forming that particular soap's former alumni, along with Jo ("How's Adam?") Joyner from EastEnders and Sky's recent funny but shortlived sitcom Trying Again, Mackenzie Crook from The Office, the Pirates of the Carribean movies and detectorists and Max Beesley from Mad Dogs and Bodies.

But the spotlight for this first episode fell on stand up comic turned actor Jason Manford as Marty, a salesman going off the rails and heading for a midlife crisis. When he's issued with his final warning for yet another unpunctual start to the day, Marty finds himself spinning the most astonishing lie to keep boss (Beesley) off his back - he claims his wife has died.

Whilst this episode was entertaining enough and, to a certain extent, nicely written I did rather struggle with it in places and I think a lot of that stems from my dislike of Manford and his lack of credible acting talent. His lie is so appalling it is the work of a true scumbag and yet, the episode rests on our ability to understand Marty - something that Manford doesn't have the talent to do. There's not enough of the depth and light and shade to truly convince and in just a matter of minutes I was longing for someone like Will Mellor, an actor who can play the cheeky chappie with an inherent air of vulnerability and recklessness. Was he busy that week? Manford nails the comedy aspects of the role, constantly encircling the precipice of his deceit allows for some broad comedy, and he gets the sleaze aspect of telling such a lie right too (drawing perhaps on real life as I'll discuss in a mo) but he doesn't get the audience on side or to truly understand the man or his motivation. That requires a real actor. At least Rebecca Callard, playing Marty's single, lonely work colleague he starts to get a little too close to following his wife's 'death', delivered the goods.

So, the sleaze. I don't really like Manford because of the very public scandals that exploded in his face and almost derailed his career. In 2010, Manford resigned from hosting The One Show after just four months when a tabloid revealed that the husband, father and all round family man had been communicating online with female fans in the hope of getting some sex or at least some solo relief. A couple of years later, he was revealed to still be exchanging raunchy messages and webcam chats which led to the disintegration of his marriage. For some performers this could spell the end of their career (Leslie Grantham anyone? An actor for whom being a convicted murderer was less of an issue than having a wank with a fan online!) but for Manford Ordinary Lies actually seems to trade on it, drawing a parallel between his real life scandal and the mendacity his fictional character becomes immersed in.

On discussing his performance here with a friend today they replied that he was good but that they "expected him to say something funny". I know the feeling; I've expected Jason Manford to say something funny ever since he started in comedy.

Ordinary Lies is one to stick with, showing some promise so far and giving tantalising hints of the lives of the other characters in this opening episode including Joyner's missing husband (played by Shaun Dooley - so the chances of him returning in some shape or form are naturally very high) and her affair with Beesley. Next week's episode seems set to focus on Michelle Keegan's showroom receptionist.

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