This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 22 October 2016.
Tutankhamun: Sunday, STV
HIM: Wednesday, STV
It’s not often you see a blustering character actor sporting both pince-nez and fez these days. That, I believe, is where society has gone wrong.
So tasselled hats off to Tutankhamun, a four-part epic of the old-school based on the 1922 discovery of the legendary Egyptian tomb by British archaeologist Howard Carter.
As our story began, various brandy-sipping gold-diggers grumbled that Egypt’s Valley of the Kings was all “dug out”. Having been mined for years, it was thought to be a barren wasteland as far as ancient treasures go.
But Carter - a socially awkward yet fiercely driven maverick with a headstrong moustache - thought otherwise. He just knew there was something else, something incredible, waiting down there.
Carter is mentored by Sam Neill manfully resisting the temptation to ham it up as one-legged Lord Carnarvon, a colonial cove who decided to mount an archaeological expedition to stave off boredom. His friendship with Carter provides something approaching an emotional core.
There’s no suspense whatsoever, of course. We know how this story pans out. That wouldn’t matter if the characters weren’t so papyrus-thin (Carter’s American love interest exists solely to drive the plot by giving him insights into his own feelings).
The dialogue leaves nothing to the imagination, it’s almost entirely expository. You want historical context? Then try this for size: “Some idiot kid just shot the Archduke of Austria and his wife!” Thanks for that.
Normally, writing of this nature would drive me mad, but I’ll let Tutankhamun off as it takes place in a land of hokum, where subtlety has no place. It has no pretensions towards high-minded drama, it’s just a good old-fashioned piece of mindless escapism.
Yes, it could be objectively better – a dash of wit wouldn’t go amiss – but it looks suitably panoramic and at least the pace never drags.
An enjoyable load of old Tut.
By contrast, HIM is a drama that takes itself very seriously indeed, and ends up looking utterly foolish as a result.
It’s a risible supernatural saga about a troubled, angry, sensitive teenager with a nasty case of telekinesis. The son of divorced parents, his powers flare up whenever he’s emotionally upset, which is 90% of the time. It’s Stephen King’s Carrie meets Kevin the Teenager.
His supposedly disturbing displays of mind-magic are inadvertently funny, especially when he almost murdered his antagonistic stepdad with the floating contents of a tool bag. I’ve seen scarier things in Rentaghost (seriously, I have).
He/Him (we never learn his name) also seeks advice from a saintly old white-haired grandma in a care home, who’s the only person who understands him. When she urges him to use his gifts for good, he helpfully changes the TV channel from afar for the old dears in the communal living room. It’s hilarious.
The sight of a pregnant woman being drowned by a burst water tank shouldn’t be funny, but HIM somehow turns even that into a piece of comedy gold.
Whereas the lack of subtlety in silly old Tutankhamun is more or less acceptable, it’s wince-inducing in this supposedly serious drama.
Written by long-serving TV dramatist Paula Milne, whose heavy-handed work I’ve never rated, HIM is clearly intended as a novel way of studying family dysfunction and the traumatic effects of loss and divorce on children.
But all it proves is that Milne doesn’t have much self-awareness, otherwise she’d realise how ridiculous the whole thing is.