Next came Bully, written by Marc Pye. (You can read an interview with the writer about the inception of his episode and the series as a whole over at Lucy's place.)
Briefly, two neighbouring families go on holiday together and we are led to believe that something went down between the two young sons, Andrew and Ryan. So much so that Andrew's father tells him that if anything similar happens again, hit him. This was essentially the pre-credit sequence so no messing about. Scene and title laying the theme right out there in no uncertain terms. And sure enough, not too long elapsed before Andrew was punching Ryan in a playground scrap, and leading him into a lamppost in a game of blind man's bluff.
The respective parents are a little puzzled by the turn in Andrew's behavior, until his mother tells Ryan's that his dad, Colin, is trying to toughen him up to stop him getting teased about his weight. (In actual fact Andrew wasn't really overweight, just a lot taller than Ryan, which would surely be a reason not to tease him. But never mind.) The main problem was that apart from the pre-credit scene, we'd seen nothing of Colin and Andrew's relationship. So this sudden increase in violence, when Andrew did not appear to have been the victim of bullying of any kind, felt a bit odd to say the least.
In probably the most touching and interesting moment, Colin admits to his wife that he was teased when he was younger and doesn't want Andrew to suffer the same fate. I thought this was an excellent idea and gave empathetic motivation to an otherwise repugnant character. But it was never followed up on. There was no catharsis for Colin, no coming to terms with his past, not even a genuine acknowledgment that violence was not the answer, which was a shame. Instead the subplot involving Colin was about him having an affair, and getting his mate Les (Ryan's father,) to cover for him. But even this wasn't used to its full potential. Once the families were at war, the fact Les had enormous dirt on Colin didn't seem to occur to either. If some neighbour's kid was beating up my son, and I knew he was having an affair, I would use it, grass or otherwise. So it might have been more interesting if Les had found out about the affair a little later, and then suddenly Colin would have to change tack, make nice, in order to protect himself. The whole thing got wasted and basically forgotten by the end of the story.
Overall Bully was an improvement on the The Rain Has Stopped. But I did find it interesting that Pye said that the idea started off as a one hour drama for The Street. I have to say it felt like it. The pacing was really uneven. I understand the desire, and need, to escalate drama and tension, but we went from everybody being friends, to Andrew assaulting Ryan numerous times, Colin defacing Les' car, and Les threatening Andrew twice, declaring he would kill him and do time for him if he went near Ryan again. It was a shocking twist to see Les bully a cowering Andrew, but it all felt rushed and didn't ring true. This was even more bizarre considering the brief flashback sequence. Like the voiceover yesterday - did we really need to be reminded of moments from such a short script? It made me wonder whether they had the budget to actually shoot enough material?
Again like yesterday, the denouement was handled very quickly. Andrew ran away, but it turned out he was hiding in the attic. It brought father and son together, helped the two mothers make up, and reunited Colin and Les. It was a shame for the respective writers, although probably not their fault, that two consecutive stories used a child disappearing as major turning points. But unlike Liz yesterday, I was unsure who was 'moving on' in Bully. Probably a toss up between Colin and Andrew, but I'm not sure not hitting people any more constitutes 'moving on.' However, where Bully worked was a unity of theme that was missing from The Rain Has Stopped.
Come back tomorrow for a look at Drowning Not Waving by newcomer Sarah Deane.
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