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TV UK, 19 October

Drama that focuses on human misery is considered especially 'realistic'. But The Corner is no more 'real' than Attachments.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

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The first series of Attachments was billed as a window on the new economy, documenting life at Seethru, a dotcom startup. In the event, its broadcast coincided with the bursting of the so-called dotcom bubble, and while the precariousness of life in the virtual economy was a recurring theme, it was the sexual shenanigans of the company’s staff (the ‘attachments’) that provided the drama.

This time around (BBC2, Thursdays at 10pm), there is no pretence at social investigation, except in the narrowest sense. The first episode offers a crash course in the labyrinthine sexual politics of the Seethru office, involving a marriage on the rocks, a bisexual love triangle and a tragic case of unrequited love. And all this before the introduction of Deely, a lovable Irish rogue who leaves a trail of broken hearts – and angry husbands – wherever he goes. (Hee, hee – these BBC press notes sure do come in handy.)

At times, Attachments is reminiscent of Ricky Gervaise’s satire The Office, in its over-the-top portrayal of office life. But overall, the drama succeeds in documenting a more durable innovation than the dotcom boom: extended adolescence. While the spiked office is of course entirely populated by serious-minded young men and women, the word on the street is that today’s young professionals are having trouble growing up.

The unsettled marriage at the centre of Attachments is the most obvious example of the phenomenon. It is not that the relationship between Mike and Luce is stormy: in fact, their emotional fumbling is more like something out of Grange Hill than anything else. The other characters are similarly feckless. While the focus seems to be on sexual adventures, it is the more mundane relationships between characters that are done best. The scene in which Reece pours lager on his breakfast cereal to cheer up the dejected Brandon is particularly touching.

The Corner (E4, Sundays at 11pm) offers a more literal approach to realistic drama. It is co-written and produced by David Simon, adapted from his book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. Simon is famous for the excellent cop series Homicide: Life on the Street, itself adapted from Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, a great book from which I’ve memorised great chunks. To underline his greatness, Simon has also written for NYPD Blue.

The books are like documentary novels based on Simon’s time spent with the Baltimore Police Department’s Homicide Division and on the drug-infested corner of that city’s Fayette Street and Munroe Street. As a crime reporter on the Baltimore Sun, Simon grew frustrated with the limitations of newspaper journalism, and determined instead to make an effort to get to know the people he was writing about and to write from their perspectives.

While the TV shows are based on the real people and events documented in the books, they are fictionalised, and they look and feel like straightforward gritty drama. Fans of HomidiHomi
Homicide
might be disappointed by The Corner, not least because crack is not conducive to the kind of sharp dialogue used by smartass detectives. Indeed, the characters in The Corner are the objects of ridicule in Homicide, and from this perspective the jokes aren’t that funny anyway.

The Corner is bleak, and its focus on the young DeAndre McCullough and his decent but hopeless father only adds tragedy. Drama that focuses on human misery is sometimes considered especially ‘realistic’. While the corner of Fayette and Munroe is a real place, The Corner is no more ‘real’ than Attachments. The merits or otherwise of each depend on how they work as drama.

The Corner works because in the context of despair, every little gesture of humanity seems exaggerated, and the programme’s makers exploit this well. Attachments might work if it can let real life provide the drama without feeling the need to parachute in exotic sexual plotlines. Or is the spiked office just really out of touch?

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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Topics Politics

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