ITV has something of a problem. It’s had such rubbish programmes on for so long that even when it gets some decent shows, no one will watch them. And since no one watches them, it can’t get the advertising to fund them properly so they’re not as well made. Have a look at the Hornblower adaptations with Ioan Gruffudd for examples of what happens when you get a good cast and good scripts but bog-all cash.
Or, indeed, take a look at The Fixer. On the one hand, we’ve seen it all before: convicted criminal bust out of jail by the government to assassinate criminals who are above the law. It’s La Femme Nikita, isn’t it? Then make him a taciturn, thoughtful guy who has qualms about his job; give him an irritating sidekick and a stern boss who’ll have him dumped in a river if he starts misbehaving and you’ve essentially got Callan for the 21st century: nu-Callan if you will.
But the show really transcended that unoriginal formula to give us a show worth watching. It’s been an action show that’s far less concerned with action than it has been about character, plot and dialogue. Sure, it was afflicted by Tamzin Outhwaite as an implausible femme fatale. But with Peter Mullan on hand to make even George Cowley of The Professionals seem like a soft Sassenach jessie, fine performances by Andrew Buchan and Jody Latham as the Fixer and his sidekick Callum (hmm…) respectively, and some interesting plotting pyrotechnics, it’s been an interesting, gritty show that just needed a bit of a polish. And some budget.
Much as I’d like to take the dramatic high ground and point out that crime is largely unviolent, unspectacular, etc, and so The Fixer‘s lack of real action made it more realistic, some mindless action might have been nice. I’m not talking US levels, but when you compare the show with Spooks, say, another Kudos drama, the obvious difference between BBC and ITV budgets is clear. For the most part, it’s been all talk, the occasional bit of gun waving and people sitting in restaurants. Cheap is the word.
Nevertheless, we’ve gone over relatively interesting ground for the last few weeks, with our hero beating up the East European mafia, jury fixers, racists, his own predecessor and more. And it’s really been quite clever, with Mercer using his brain more than his brawn most of the time, leaving the explosions for his dealings with Mullan and Outhwaite. Taught and exciting with some excellent, unexpected dialogue, it’s been one of the few shows I’ve looked forward to each week, something I never thought I’d say again about an ITV show.
It’s been a little hampered at times (probably in the ratings as well) by a strong streak of almost breathtaking misogyny and as the series has progressed, some of the plots have become less convincing. The series finale was probably the least plausible, with Mullan’s threats against Mercer ultimately shown to be empty and otherwise smart characters putting themselves in ridiculous situations for no real reason. The episode’s conclusion also lacked any real sense other than the need to keep the show open-ended for a possible second series.
All the same, compared to the other networks’ output, it’s been decidedly superior and well worth watching. Given a proper budget, some proper promotion and a little more attention, it could be a flagship programme for the network – an example of what it wants to be, alongside the imported Pushing Daisies and other higher quality shows.
Who wants to bet it won’t be recommissioned?