What Remains review – Episode One – BBC One

What Remains BBCIn What Remains, everything is ominous and suspicious and everyone has secrets. It is, as a result, absurdly overwrought, and is loaded with clichés.

The first episode began with a flashback to the lonely and fat Melissa, putting down her chocolate just long enough to investigate a noise in the attic. Jump forward a few years and a couple who have just moved into the same apartment block discovered a dead body in the attic, presumably that of the believed missing Melissa. The police began an investigation into the various suspicious occupants of the house.

The main character, Len Harper, is a policeman one day from retirement who is working one last case. Obviously, that is a massively overused trope. I don’t understand how a writer could think this was a good idea, to use such a stock character and hit all the same notes played a thousand times before. Only if the show was subverting this trope would this be in anyway justifiable but the show doesn’t seem to be doing that so far.

The policeman is also a lonely widower with no children who can thus relate to the case; a woman who died so alone that nobody reported her missing. This has also been done to death, including in run-of-the-mill police procedurals like A Touch of Frost. And then there’s the victim: a fat, lonely woman who scoffs chocolate and recently lived with her mum. Really? Did she need to be such a caricature?

There’s a very artificial tension in the show, with every scene accompanied by menacing music and every conversation resembling a poker game played by terrible bluffers. And the occupants of the various apartments are all really, implausibly suspicious. One character, journalist Kieron, doesn’t want to report on the discovery of the body in his apartment block. Is he worried about property prices? Or is it… MURDER! Cue ominous music and shifty eyes.

The show reminds me of the BBC’s Mayday, a child abduction mystery in which too many characters were suspicious and had secrets. What Remains is not as bad as that show so far but, once we are a few episodes in, it is just not going to be believable that so many suspicious people would be living in one place.

The writing in the episode kept using annoying tricks to ramp-up the mystery. ‘The house is greatly improved by her absence,’ Joe Sellers, a teacher who lives in the bottom apartment, said to Len about Melissa. And then the scene ends. Come on. No follow-up questions? For instance: why did you not like Melissa? Did you have any arguments? Either the policeman is awfully incompetent or the show is cutting the interview to hold all this information away from the audience, and that is just incredibly annoying and transparently artificial.

Similarly, Michael, who has just moved into the house and is an old pupil of Joe’s, saw a strange woman in Joe’s flat, and discovered that she is an old classmate. Did he tell his wife about this astonishing discovery? Of course not, no, because this is the type of show were everything has to be a fucking secret.

It wasn’t all bad though. It was nicely shot in places, and like most murder-mysteries it is intriguing and leaves me wanting to watch the next episode to find out more. But it is really flawed and contrived in places, and I can’t work out why someone would make a conscious decision to write so many obvious clichés into the script.

Random notes:

  • There was a good scene where Len got Vidya, Michael’s wife, to stand in the attic and shout ‘help’ while he tried to work out if all the neighbours would hear such a cry. It wasn’t very subtle, but this exploration of bystander effect and social isolation might be interesting going forward.
  • Len waking up with an arrow in his wall after his drunken night out was pretty funny.
  • In the final scene a mysterious intruder hiding in a seemingly empty flat hit Len who then chased him down the stairs. How many times have we seen that? So many films and TV shows have done that exact scene. It’s like the show is purposely trying to be unoriginal.
  • Vidya just walked into a crime scene at one point with a mop and bucket. These police officers are kind of awful.

What Remains Reviews: Episode Two, Episode Three, Episode Four

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5 thoughts on “What Remains review – Episode One – BBC One

  1. Enjoyed your review. It was more entertaining than the programme. I was depressed at how cynical and lazy the programme was – almost as if the writer had made a point of choosing all the cliches precisely because someone else had done it already and if viewers had liked that before, they were bound to like it again.

    My iPlayer broke down (in protest?) about half way through and I didn’t bother trying to restart it…

    • It’s really strange that such overused material could make it past all the various people who must have read the script. You might be right about the writer consciously choosing to use the clichés because they worked in the past. I hope not though, because that is a terrible way to make TV.

      • I think if everyone thought like you we wouldn’t end up with all these nth generation derivatives of once successful programmes ie those ones about antiques/country houses/maverick detectives.

        Are you going to do another Top Boy review for tonight’s episode? (Do you do requests?)

  2. Hugo Rifkind in today’s Saturday Times says that What Remains was “properly excellent” and a “brilliant set-up”.

    Anyway, Hugo is rubbish compared with Caitlin Moran 😦 Bring back Caitlin.

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