Best of 2019 | #9 – Defending the Guilty

defending the guilty will sharpe katherine parkinson mark bonnar alex mcbride

I started watching Defending the Guilty because of Will Sharpe.

If you cast your mind back to this time last year – Theresa May was still in Downing Street, it feels like aeons ago – then you’ll remember, obviously, that Flowers was one of my favourite television shows of 2018. I raved and raved about it, about how brilliant it was and how much I loved it for being unlike anything else on television, and resolved to watch anything that Will Sharpe was involved with from then on.

Defending the Guilty, admittedly, is actually not entirely unlike everything else on television. It’s fairly easy to point to antecedents that it shares DNA with – the creators themselves have spoken a little about how they were influenced by both The Thick of It and Green Wing, and it’s not difficult to see how. Much like The Thick of It (a show I watched for the first time this year, actually), Defending the Guilty punctures the image we have of lawyers – it’s no more The Good Wife than The Thick of It is The West Wing, essentially. As creator Kieron Quirke put it, “lawyers on TV are presented as philosopher kings doing their damnedest against impossible odds, but the reality is [they’re] sort of morons”. That said, though, comparison to The Thick of It obscures what Defending the Guilty is like, at least a little. “The Thick of It but with lawyers” implies something far, far more caustic and acerbic than Defending the Guilty – which, in reality, is a far more charming, indeed often quite sweet, comedy than that analogy suggests.

The series focuses on a group of four trainee barristers in competition for permanent tenancy at the chambers, caught between strained friendship and obvious rivalry. Will Sharpe shines here as an awkward and empathetic lawyer coincidentally also named Will, but he’s just one brilliant actor amongst several. Katherine Parkinson is brilliant as Will’s rather more cynical mentor Caroline; if we’re running with the Thick of It comparison, she’d be the spiky Malcolm Tucker analogue (although, again, it’s much more complicated than that). At a certain point, I’m inclined to just start listing – Gwyneth Keyworth is so good; Hugh Coles is brilliant playing posh and substanceless; Mark Bonnar is having great fun – because Defending the Guilty really managed to put together a great ensemble. Much as I started watching it for Will Sharpe, I very much stayed for everyone else.

And, it goes without saying, Defending the Guilty is deeply funny. Often though that’s in quite an understated way – it’s far more willing to rely on the absurdity and general silliness of the law, rather than mile a minute dialogue with a punchline every other sentence. It works better that way: there’s a consistent, heightened humour maintained throughout, always very funny even if it has comparatively few laugh-out-loud zingers. (Not that it doesn’t have any of those, of course.)

Actually, speaking of its tone, that’s one of the things I most enjoyed about Defending the Guilty. Or, more specifically, how that tone manifested and was maintained: through the soundtrack. I loved the soundtrack – I took to it immediately, of course, but using my favourite Wolf Alice song in the third episode earned Defending the Guilty its spot on this list. I really mean that! At times it almost feels like they might be overdoing it – the needle drops come thick and fast – but then it becomes clear that actually, no, they know exactly what they’re doing. If anything defines Defending the Guilty, it’s the music (and it’s really, really good music).

Admittedly, the series isn’t perfect. I’ve spoken about it a few times over the past few weeks, and I’ve often highlighted the same problem: for a series largely predicated on the potential breakdown of Will’s relationship, nowhere near enough work goes into developing his girlfriend as a character. Indeed, she remains a cipher for most of the series, less a character in her own right and more of an accessory to the lead. You could sort of argue that’s the point – the series doesn’t have room for her much like Will’s legal career is pushing her out of his life – but that’s a slightly contrived defence of a fairly basic flaw.

Still, though. Defending the Guilty was a deeply charming little show: sweet and engaging, funny and introspective, all with a killer soundtrack. It doesn’t seem especially likely that it’ll make a lot of best of 2019 lists, but it was routinely one of the best parts of my week: if you can walk the line between self-assured silliness and thoughtful probing of cynicism and idealism in the justice system, playing Wolf Alice in the background, then you’re going to find a spot on my best of 2019 list.

I only just about managed to get this done in time, and even then it was a bit late – ideally this would’ve gone up in the morning, but you know, the election. In theory, tomorrow you’ll be able to find out my ninth favourite individual episode of television across 2019. I am reasonably sure I’ll be able to get something written on schedule.

Click here to find the rest of the Best of 2019 list – or, click here to filter by television shows and here to filter by television episodes

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Television Index

Well, fuck. Now what?

uk general election boris johnson conservative majority now what charity help

I keep thinking about 2015.

It was the first General Election I followed properly – though I was still a little too young to vote – and for most of the campaign I’d assumed Ed Miliband would end up Prime Minister. Maybe that’d be as leader of a coalition, maybe not, but either way: Prime Minister Miliband. Enter the Miliverse. Join the Milifandom.

But, no. I remember watching his resignation speech the next day, hearing his voice crack, hearing him thank people, and I remember thinking it was sad.

And then I think about 2016. Nigel Farage, standing in front of a poster playing on Nazi imagery; Nigel Farage, declaring Brexit won without a single shot fired, just days after the politically motivated murder of a remain-supporting Labour MP by a white supremacist; Nigel Farage, a great big gurning grin on his face, victorious. 52-48, at the end of deeply ugly and bitter campaign we still haven’t properly reckoned with, and I’m starting to worry never will.

Same thing again a few months later when November rolled around. I’d woken up early to do some work – didn’t get it done, obviously, too focused on the news. Got the bus into school. It was raining. Huddled around Jerry’s laptop, watching the news. Everyone turned up already knowing the result – apart from one girl, who’d overslept and hadn’t caught the news. That’s what I remember about 2016: watching her find out Donald Trump was President of the United States. I suppose it’s a bit like those Japanese soldiers who didn’t realise the second world war had ended, except not actually anything like that at all.

2017 was a little better. A little happier. A loss, yes, but a caveated one, a qualified one, one that pointed to better things next time. Just if you held out a little longer.

Well, evidently fucking not.

This is shit. Absolutely, horribly, brutally shit. There’s time for post-mortem later, and I suppose we’ll be relitigating this campaign right up until the next one – and frankly, probably, afterwards – but for the moment, that doesn’t matter.

People are going to die because of the electoral choices made today. We already know that 130 000 deaths can be attributed to Conservative austerity measures; we already know that the UN deemed these policies a breach of human rights. Most of the past nine years, the Conservatives have been in coalition, or otherwise constrained. They now have a significant majority. They have a manifesto that you could open to any random page and find something that will kill people: a commitment to further austerity; a policy that amounts, essentially, to the ethnic cleaning of traveller communities; further privatisation of the NHS, however stealthily done, however disguised; the list goes on. The country is going to be shaped to the political will and imagination of people like Boris Johnson, Priti Patel, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Sajid Javid.

The time between now and May 2025 is going to be grim.

I donated to a couple of these charities last night, and shared the list below in a few different facebook groups.

It’s not an exhaustive list, obviously, but they’re each charities that’ll help the people most likely to be affected by a Conservative majority. If you’re able to, it is probably worth chipping in a little bit to some of them, or sharing the list yourself. Obviously it shouldn’t fall to the individual to take care of those who would otherwise become the casualties of an underfunded state, but, well. Needs must? I dunno. It’s good to feel proactive, I guess. It made me feel a little better.

The next five years are going to be rough. They’re going to need direct action, and they’re going to need activism, and they’re going to need us to work together. And, you know, fuck, maybe that isn’t enough in the face of the concerted efforts of the entire right-wing press. But, well, we can’t give up. Gotta keep going.

It’s not just necessary – it’ll be worth it, too.

Facebook | Twitter | Blog Index | Politics Index