Cuffs, BBC1, Ashley Walters, Amanda Abbington

Cuffs – PC Jake Vickers (JACOB IFAN), PC Ryan Draper (ASHLEY WALTERS), PC Lino Moretti (ALEX CARTER), PC Donna Prager (ELEANOR MATSUURA)

Cop this – PC Jake Vickers (Jacob Ifan), PC Ryan Draper (Ashley Walters), PC Lino Moretti (Alex Carter), PC Donna Prager (Eleanor Matsuura)

Pounding an action-packed beat in Brighton, Cuffs looks set to apprehend a significant 8pm audience for BBC1

★★★½ BBC1, starts Wednesday, 28 October, 8pm

ON FIRST appearances there isn’t anything startlingly new about Cuffs. In its depiction of life on the beat for coppers it recalls a line of popular dramas from Z Cars to The BillIf Cuffs is going to be a hit, it will no doubt have to hook viewers by having terrific stories and characters within this familiar format.

Cuffs – Misha Baig (Bhavna Limbachia), faces a robber (RAY DE HAAN) - (C) Tiger Aspect

Confrontation – Misha Baig (Bhavna Limbachia) faces a robber (Rey de Haan)

With writer Julie Gearey onboard – who also brought us Prisoners’ Wives and Secret Diary of a Call Girl – it certainly looks capable of becoming a crowd-puller. While Prisoners’ Wives did not create a sensation like Broadchurch did, it was a gripping series with compelling characters and no doubt convinced the Beeb that Gearey was the woman to bring us Cuffs.

 It also has an eye-catching cast, including Ashley Walters (Top Boy) Peter Sullivan (The Borgias), Amanda Abbington (Sherlock), Shaun Dooley (The Game), Paul Ready (Utopia), Eleanor Matsuura (Utopia) and Alex Carter (Hollyoaks, Emmerdale). Cuffs also introduces Jacob Ifan in his first leading television role.

Jacob Ifan and Ashley Walters

Ifan plays PC Jake Vickers, son of Chief Superintendent Robert Vickers. He is also a total rookie and it is his first day on the job under the mentorship of seasoned constable Ryan Draper (Ashley Walter). This forms the central story of the pilot episode of this eight-part series.

So, the story is instantly ripe with conflict and drama. Ryan doesn’t like the boss’s son, the boss’s son initially seems hopeless at his job, and just in case that isn’t enough, Jake is also gay, with eyes for a slick defence solicitor he spots at the nick.

This is a pretty similar to the setup to the one we saw in the superb US series Southland, which took us onto the mean streets of LA in the company of a hard-bitten cop and his rookie. [Read more…]

Top Boy 2, C4, with Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Lorraine Burroughs

Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Dris (Shone Romulus) in Top Boy 2
Dushane and Dris in Top Boy 2. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Tuesday, 20 August, 9pm

Story: 27-year-old Dushane has finally made it as ‘Top Boy’, and is moving into the big time with boss Joe. But Dushane’s former right-hand man, Sully, is now a potentially dangerous rival with a new partner-in-crime, violent and volatile Mike…

Graffiti of Sully and Dushane in C4's Top Boy2
Sully and Dushane – series artwork

WELCOME BACK to the Summerhouse Estate, where the gangs are still thriving and tension is high. Dushane is where he wants to be – Top Boy – and thinks he can ride the tiger, that he is in control.

He’s joined up with big boss Joe and they are getting their largest drugs shipment ever. For most of the opening episode (there are four in all), everything seems to be going Dushane’s way.

Even when he is arrested on suspicion of killing Kamale, Dushane is soon released unscathed, with the help of attractive solicitor Rhianna, who even agrees to go for a drink with him.

Bleak Hackney accompanied by Brian Eno

Dushane’s former ally Sully is scrabbling around to brutalise his way to small amounts of

Vincent (Benedict Wong) in C4's Top Boy 2
Drug dealer Vincent terrorises Gem

cash, in cahoots with violent Mike. But even if Dushane misses his old mucker, Sully is strictly small time.

This second instalment of Top Boy picks up where the first, Bafta-nominated, series left off. It’s written by novelist and screenwriter Ronan Bennett (Hidden, Public Enemies), a resident of Hackney whose tale here has a proper feel for the borough and its rough side.

In modern TV dramas council estates are shorthand for ‘chavs’ and lawlessness, and certainly those featured in Top Boy are bleak, with a score by Brian Eno rubbing in the starkness of it all. But not all of Bennett’s characters turn to gang culture as a means of escape, and that’s what makes the drama a rewarding experience.

Escaping the Summerhouse Estate gangs?

Ra’Nell’s story is again contrasted with those of Dushane’s and the gang members, as he attempts to keep his head down while furthering his prospects as a footballer. His mother, Lisa, has turned a corner after her nervous breakdown and is now running her own hairdresser’s.

Michael, Navaeh and Nafisa in C4's Top Boy 2
Michael, Navaeh and Nafisa

But his friend Gem is in the clutches of a Chinese drug dealer, and his plight threatens to submerge Ra’Nell too. From 12-year-old budding rapper Michael to the other young members of Dushane’s crew, such as Nevaeh and R’Marni, this is the story of the youngsters in a hazardous urban setting.

Ronan Bennett has seen drug-dealing ‘tinies’ near his home and he has spoken to them, and Top Boy is a judgement-free portrayal of these kids, their attitudes, ambitions and relationships – good, bad and ugly. It’s in turn dismaying, raw, frightening and sometimes funny.

Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson and David Hayman

Ashley Walters, once of Grange Hill and So Solid Crew, has the charisma to be a believable gang leader, while David Hayman oozes menace as Joe. Kane Robinson as Sully holds his own

Gem and Ra'Nell in C4's Top Boy 2
Gem and Ra’Nell

as Dushane’s equal, while the young cast members (with Malcolm Kamulete as Ra’Nell and Giacomo Mancini as Gem) all feel authentic.

By the end of the first episode, the overarching crime storyline takes a shocking twist, ensuring that events are starting to spin out of Dushane’s control.

Apparently, a third series is in the pipeline, which is good news. C4’s drama renaissance is helping to expunge memories of its past reality horrors such as Big Brother and The Man with 10-Stone Testicles. Top Boy is a mark of the channel’s new-found thirst for originality and bold drama commissioning, following on from recent successes Utopia and Southcliffe.

Cast: Ashley Walters Dushane, Kane Robinson Sully, David Hayman Joe, Paul Anderson Mike, Sharon Duncan-Brewster Lisa, Giacomo Mancini Gem, Malcolm Kamulete Ra’Nell, Shone Romulus Dris, Lorraine Burroughs Rhianna

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Inside Men starring Steven Mackintosh PREVIEW

Blag of nerves – honest John (Steven Mackintosh) steps up. Pic: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC1, starts Thursday, 2 February, 9pm

Story: John Coniston manages a highly secure cash counting house. One day he finds himself in the middle of a terrifying, bloody armed robbery. Flash back to nine months earlier and John is confronting two employees he suspects to siphoning off £50,000. They expect boring, playsafe John to call the cops, but John offers them a way out…

Television is so obsessed with whodunits and police procedurals that it usually leaves the heist escapades to the movies.

Inside Men breaks that pattern with a intriguing character study of three guys who, because of their individual problems and insecurities, decide to step out of their comfort zones and risk everything by attempting a £15million robbery.

Steven Mackintosh, Ashley Walters and Warren Brown perfectly manage the haunted looks of the men saying no more Mr Nice Guy. This is a caper without geezers, just three beta males who want to be alpha.

Warren Brown and Kierston Wareing
Mackintosh plays the mouse-like John Coniston, manager of a cash counting house who looks like he’s going to be sick every time a fiver goes missing. So desperate is he to maintain his generally unblemished monthly record at the staff bonus party that he replaces a missing £240 from his own wallet.

Also working at the depot is forklift driver Marcus (Warren Brown), an irresponsible dreamer with debts and a loving, lairy wife, Gina (Kierston Wareing). Chris (Ashley Walters) is the security guard with an alcoholic mother, who lands a new girlfriend and suddenly wants to get out of his miserable rut.

The opening episode of this four-parter kicks off with pounding tension as masked robbers hit the depot. Events then backtrack nine months and we get an insight into the lives of the three principals.

Going for broke
The narrative flashes back and forth, cleverly keeping the viewer on edge. Steven Mackintosh holds the whole thing together as the head-down drone with a plodding marriage who suddenly decides to go for broke.

Warren Brown breezes through as reckless Marcus, and only Ashley Walters is playing against type as timid and shy.

Written by Tony Basgallop (EastEnders, Being Human, Hotel Babylon), this is full of sharp character strokes – such as John’s awful mateyness with a boss who clearly thinks he’s a loser – that  keep you watching to how the desperadoes get through this.

It’s an involving, tense opener that’s right on the money.

Cast: Steven Mackintosh John, Ashley Walters Chris, Warren Brown Marcus, Kierston Wareing Gina, Leila Mimmack Dita, Nicola Walker Kirsty, Hannah Merry Olivia, Tom Mannion Gordon, Ruth Gemmell Rebecca, Paul Popplewell  Tom

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Inside Men and Mafia Month

Inside Men, the story of a multi-million pound robbery by four ordinary men, is being filmed in Bristol by the BBC. Steven Mackintosh (Camelot, Most Sincerely) is John, manager of the cash counting house. Joining him in the scam is depot security guard Chris (Ashley Walters – Outcasts, Five Days), and forklift driver Marcus (Warren Brown – Luther, Single Father).

Kierston Wareing – who is in every other crime drama these, recently notching up The Shadow Line, Luther and The Runaway – plays Marcus’s wife, Gina, who also is involved in the robbery.

Written by Tony Basgallop, whose credits include Worried about the Boy and Hughie Green, the twist here is what happens to these guys once they step out of their comfort zones. Each has a reason for joining the heist. Chris has an alcoholic mother, young girlfriend and hopes the money will make his life better. Marcus borrowed money to set up a hairdressing salon that crashed.

Tony Basgallop says, ‘Inside Men is the story of an old-school cash robbery but with the “geezer” element removed. It’s a study in what it takes for a modern man to step up, assert himself, and have the courage to take something by force. How do you go from being a beta male to an alpha male, and what are the implications on your everyday life?’

• In August Sky Atlantic has an offer you can’t refuse – Mafia Month. It’s a motley bunch of programmes, including TV mobster movies Lansky (1999) with Richard Dreyfuss and Falcone (1999, aka Excellent Cadavers), starring Chazz Palminteri and F Murray Abraham, the story of murdered Sicilian prosecutor Giovanni Falcone. There’s a documentary, Mob Stories, in which five high-ranking gangsters talk publicly for the first time. Season three of The Sopranos is also throwing its weight around in there. The FBI is doing its best to build a RICO case against Tony, who is bugged and under surveillance. This season  includes the classic – some say the finest – Sopranos episode, Pine Barrens. Written by Boardwalk Empire creator Terrence Winter and directed by Steve Buscemi, it’s the one with Paulie and Chris lost in the sub-zero New Jersey forests.

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