“There’s no better mentor than Jed Mercurio”: Trigger Point writer Daniel Brierley discusses his new ITV thriller

Two images that blur into one another. Left: Vicky McClure and Adrian Lester in Trigger Point, wearing big chunk bomb disposal protective gear. Right: writer Daniel Brierley, wearing an open-collared blue and white shirt, on holiday.

When you work with Jed Mercurio, you know that you’ve got to be on your A-game. He’s not someone that suffers fools gladly. So that was an extra impetus for me to make sure I was turning in work that was as good as I could get it. I remember working on an early draft of the first episode with him, and his note being something like, don’t hold anything back. It’s like in football terms, there’s an expression “don’t leave anything on the pitch” – it’s very much like that in the script, you want to make sure everything dramatic is in there.

My first interview over at National World, which is neat – nice to be able to do that sort of work there.

This is the first of a two-part piece discussing Trigger Point with writer Daniel Brierley. In this one, we talk about his initial inspiration for the show, why he wrote it with Vicky McClure in mind, how his comedy background shaped his approach to writing thrillers, what it was like to work with Jed Mercurio, and more. In the second part, which will publish on Sunday evening, Daniel walks me through the explosive cliffhanger to the first episode.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Trigger Point’s carefully maintained tension helps it stand out in a crowded genre

In the centre, Lana Washington (Vicky McClure); to her left, slightly smaller, Joel Nutkins (Adrian Lester). They're both wearing big chunky helmets and goggles - the protective gear of bomb disposal experts.

Trigger Point is at its best as a process story.

The ITV drama builds its set pieces around the granular, technical details of bomb disposal: which wires to cut first, where the second trigger might be hidden, the significance of one type of explosive vs another. Trigger Point is careful, even forensic, in how it builds tension, and that’s very much to its credit: its slower, more precisely built scenes are always its most impressive. A possible shoot-out with a hostage wearing an explosive vest is engaging but familiar – it’s the delicate, steady incisions made in blue plastic carrier bag to identify the bomb inside that make Trigger Point stand out in a crowded genre.

The obvious point of comparison for Trigger Point is Line of Duty, for more reasons than one. Produced by Jed Mercurio, it’s got the same densely packed technical dialogue, which contributes to a similar style and feel throughout. Trigger Point also repeats a few of Line of Duty’s well-worn structural tricks, so even before you get to the obvious “they both star Vicky McClure in a police-adjacent role” observation, the two feel in conversation with one another (and Bodyguard too, come to that).

But it’s (at least a little) more than just ITV’s answer to Line of Duty, and it never quite feels like the product of a calculated, “if you liked that you’ll like this” style Netflix algorithm. The first episode is very much a statement of intent and scale – not just in terms of where it goes big and broad but where it’s small and precise, willing to let quiet moments of tension stand on their own. It’s not quite the BBC Two show Line of Duty began as, nor the BBC One show it became, but instead something between the two, with clear potential to develop its own distinct identity if it continues for as long as Line of Duty did.

My latest – well, latest of substance – piece for National World, reviewing upcoming ITV thriller Trigger Point. It’s written by Daniel Brierley (who I’ve also interviewed for National World), and produced by Jed Mercurio, creator of Line of Duty and Bodyguard. This is very much in the same vein as those two, as I explained above; worth checking out if you’re into that sort of thing though.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Rakhee Thakrar and Maxine Peake impress in Rules of the Game’s story of lies and deception

Murky green splintered glass. Reflected in the shards are Maya (Rakhee Thakrar) and Sam (Maxine Peake), as well as bearded men and office blocks.

What’s interesting about Rules of the Game is that its lead character Sam would, in another programme, be the villain: writer Ruth Fowler has spoken about how the miniseries was written in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and it’s notable that Fowler gives her lead lines originally said by Weinstein’s lawyer as part of his defence. Maxine Peake does well with the complexities to her character, from the steely public resolve to the private moments of concern – there’s a nice thread running through the drama about what she’ll excuse and what she won’t, what she’ll turn a blind eye to and what she doesn’t even notice in the first place. The series is, if not mired in ambiguity as such, certainly willing to indulge in it in a way that flatters its character drama.

Rakhee Thakrar is similarly impressive in a key role here, very much the way into the drama for viewers; she’s a consistently charming and sympathetic presence, likeable as she bristles against structures that have been in place since long before she arrived. Her role is well-characterised too, fleshed out quickly with beats that say a lot with a little. There’s a fantastic detail in the opening where Maya, clearly anxious, is listening to self-help tapes alone in her car – but skips through long sequences of the podcast, fast-forwarding and only listening specifically to the mantra.

New review of Rules of the Game for National World. Again, it’s sort of an interesting part of this new job, covering stuff like this – the sort of show that I probably wouldn’t have written about at all over the past few years, not really since I was at Yahoo (and even then it wouldn’t necessarily have been certain).

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Euphoria’s overwrought second series loses sight of its own strengths

Rue (Zendaya) is standing facing the left of the image. She looks half asleep, but her face is illuminated by a golden light.

Euphoria never quite seems like a show that knows what it wants to be.

It wants to be shocking, certainly. Season 2 of the HBO drama maintains the same sort of arch confidence at the first. It’s near-constantly calling attention to itself, with a reflexive “look at me” quality that almost dares you to complain. It’s a show that, while not exactly courting controversy, wouldn’t be doing its job right if someone, somewhere, wasn’t petitioning against it – indeed, you get the sense that creator Sam Levinson would be disappointed if Euphoria debuted to rave reviews only.

But by now that’s priced into the equation; it’s difficult to be provocative when that’s exactly what people expect. The question going into Season 2 – which begins almost three years after the first season concluded, a long time for any viewer to stay with a show but particularly those from a teenage audience – is whether or not Euphoria has any tricks left after the shock value has worn off, or if it’s a series with a fundamentally very limited range.

Across the 7 episodes of Season 2, Euphoria never does quite manage to reinvent itself. Even worse, there’s a sense that it loses sight of its own strengths as well: it’s a show so preoccupied with one particular vision of its own existence that it never quite realises all the other things it does well, and all the other directions it could – and likely should – push itself in.

My review of Euphoria season 2 for National World.

Odd show, this. I went back to look at what I said when the first series was airing, almost exactly a million years ago in June 2019, and I had found it basically messy but quite interesting, even pretty good at times. (I did completely fall off it in the end though – took me months and months to watch the finale, and I only got around to the 2020 specials in the past few days – which maybe says a lot about the conclusion I reached in the end.)

For the most part though the second series didn’t quite hit the same notes that I liked about the first series, and really doubled down on the bits that I found least interesting. Bit of a shame, really, because it’s a show that very occasionally shows these flashes of brilliance, and I wish there was a little more of that to it.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Nina Sosanya and Jamie-Lee O’Donnell make Screw just about worth watching

Prison officers Leigh (Nina Sosanya) and Rose (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) walking in opposite directions down a prison corridor; Rose is turning back to look at Leigh.

Part of the point of Screw is to tell a prison drama from a different perspective. After a number of television series focused on the lives of prisoners – from Orange is the New Black to Wentworth to OzScrew is an effort to flip the script and place prison officers at the centre of a drama.

Creator and executive producer Rob Williams, who also serves as lead writer on Screw, spent a number of years working as an art teacher in prison, and has continued volunteering in prisons since becoming a writer. Screw is, obviously, drawn from that experience; Williams has suggested that prison officers are “public servants, yet they’ve never really had their own TV show in the way that paramedics, firefighters and police have”, with Screw an attempt to redress that balance.

At times, that proves something of an uncomfortable framing. It’s hard not to feel like, in the opening episodes at least, the prisoners blend into the background a little, an abstract mass of people who are somewhere between irritants, obstacles, and oddities only. That’s one thing dealing with patients in a hospital drama, for example, but it feels like quite another to turn the lens away from the prisoners in a prison drama, the carceral state reduced almost to a background detail. Screw comes at an interesting point, actually, because now is probably quite a good time for a new prisoner-focused drama – given that audiences are likely to be more intuitively sympathetic to the experience of being locked away, and given how prisoners were consistently neglected through the pandemic. There’s a sense maybe that Screw might’ve just missed its moment.

What I’m finding about this – now that I’m writing a lot more pre-air reviews, often with shows I’ve not watched all the way through or had to finish quite quickly – is that… well, it’s just a fundamentally different thing, I suppose. Especially when you’re under embargo and have to follow certain spoiler stipulations and so on. Different task! Adjusting to that still.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

The Tourist is better as a black comedy than an action thriller

Jamie Dornan as the Man in The Tourist. He's wearing a grey t-shirt with a red heart, standing by a petrol pump in the Australian outback.

Watching The Tourist, you get the sense that it maybe wasn’t marketed particularly well.

The six-part thriller is BBC One’s prestige New Year’s Day drama for 2022, debuting in the same slot occupied by shows like The Serpent, Dracula, and Luther in previous years. To all intents and purposes, it was pitched as quite a serious affair – images were released of Jamie Dornan all bearded and brooding, trailers emphasised the intense action that kicks the whole thing off, and the official synopsis described it as “a story of self-discovery with a ticking time-bomb underneath”, full of “shocking, surprising, and brutal turns”.

It comes as a bit of a surprise then that the series is actually really, really funny.

My review of The Tourist for National World. Gotta admit, I wasn’t particularly enthused about this show at first – but it really clicked for me the moment I realised it was funny. Danielle Macdonald as Helen is a particular delight.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Stay Close is exactly what you’d expect, nothing more or less

Cush Jumbo as Megan Pierce in Harlan Coben's Stay Close. She's wearing a green jumper, using a knife to cut some rope, and looking worried.

As is often the case with crime thrillers like this, Stay Close is about a group of people haunted by their past – a past that’s come rushing forward into the present, threatening to disrupt their comfortable if stagnant suburban lives. Megan Pierce (Cush Jumbo) is a mother of three who reinvented herself seventeen years ago; Mike Broome (James Nesbitt) is a burned-out detective still obsessed with a seventeen-year-old cold-case; Ray Levine (Richard Armitage) is a struggling photographer still reeling from the disappearance of his girlfriend seventeen years earlier. The characters’ lives are, as you’d expect, intertwined, and Stay Close weaves a complex plot as it moves from one thread of its story to the next.

At its most basic level, Stay Close is very watchable. It feels designed to be binged, one episode leading into the next – it’s compelling in the sort of way that makes you want to keep going with it, if not necessarily compelling in the sort of way that you’d remember it in much detail a few months down the line. It’s atmospheric and suspenseful, often tense and dramatic, never quite addictive but certainly gripping: if you liked Safe, you’ll very likely enjoy this too. 

I’ve reviewed the new Harlan Coben Netflix adaptation. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d imagine it to be (albeit with one exception, discussed in the above review) – if you like this sort of thing, it’s worth a watch, but if not, it won’t do much to change your mind about them.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

The 21 Best TV Shows of 2021

7 circles on a pale pink background. Each circle represents a different TV show, and has a different colour hue: red (It's A Sin), orange (Stath Lets Flats), yellow (For All Mankind), green (Succession), blue (Superstore), purple (What We Do in the Shadows), and black & white (Landscapers).

“Best” can be a bit of a tricky word, especially when it comes to ranking something creative like a television programme. A ranked list suggests something quantifiable or easily measured, but “best” is often anything but.

In this particular context, it means something between greatest, most memorable, and often simply personal favourite. It’s necessarily quite a specific list, and in some ways a limited one: it doesn’t include popular shows like Squid Game, The White Lotus, The Underground Railroad, or Maid, because in each case I didn’t quite get around to watching them.

So, with all that established: here are the twenty-one best television shows of 2021.

I was planning on writing my year-end list as a series of articles, ten pieces on the ten different shows, shared daily through December – admittedly, that was massively optimistic from the outset, something I’ve tried and failed to do for a few years running now, but it just went totally out the window the moment I started the NationalWorld job.

Instead, I wrote this Top 21 piece (funny numbers like 21 rather than normal ones like 10 do better for clicks, it turns out), with a couple of hundred words about each show listed – which is quite fun in its own way too! I’ve never done a list this long before, so it was nice to be able to celebrate some other stuff that I really enjoyed, but wouldn’t have quite made the top ten.

(While I was still planning the Top Ten pieces, I did write a Special Mentions and Runners Up post, which I’ll upload soon as well as a little counterpart to this. And eventually I’ll do my movies list as well – late December proved surprisingly hectic, so I’m quite behind on a lot of the customary end-of-year stuff.)

Related:

Best of 2020 | My Top 10 TV series of the year

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

The Book of Boba Fett shows some early promise but very little ambition

Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), holding his helmet in one hand, stands next to Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen). They're stood on a Tattooine street, looking around them.

For the most part, Boba Fett is something of a cypher: that sense of mystery, married to some distinctive costume design, makes it easy to project different things onto the character. Beyond the iconography, though, there’s not actually much substance to Boba Fett, and many Star Wars fans resisted George Lucas’ attempts to add to the character in the prequel trilogy (though, in fairness, “Star Wars fans resisted something” is not exactly unique to Boba Fett). Previous Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian seemed to have found an answer to the Boba Fett problem – in borrowing that iconography, taking the cool costume and applying it to an actual character, they’d seemingly opened up the potential of the idea without having to address the simplicity of the character.

The question The Book of Boba Fett has to answer, then, is why? Is this character one worth building a television series around – particularly given there’s already a very popular Star Wars spinoff about a bounty hunter with a moral code and a shiny helmet? Is there something substantially new here, or is The Book of Boba Fett content to offer only the dim thrill of recognition and not much else?

I could never get into The Mandalorian particularly, and I rolled my eyes a bit when this was announced, but I enjoyed this more than I thought I would really. (I do wonder if maybe part of that is because I’ve never been particularly fussed by Boba Fett – reaction so far seems to have been negative, perhaps because the show is having to swim against the tide in terms of who and what people think Boba Fett should be?)

Anyway, here is my theory or expectation for the rest of the series: as the split timelines catch up to one another (structurally this show reminds me a lot of Arrow, incidentally), we learn a lot about Boba Fett’s time with the Tusken Raiders, and realise how much that’s influenced him in the present. The main reason he’s taken over Jabba’s empire is to pay off a debt to them – he’s planning to (intentionally very loaded word here) “liberate” the Tusken Raiders.

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.

Around the World in 80 Days (2021) is a stylish retelling of a familiar classic

Promotional image for Around the World in 80 Days (2021). Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma), Phileas Fogg (David Tennant), and Abigail Fix (Leonie Benesch) all stand atop a cloudy globe, looking ready for adventure.

Around the World in 80 Days is an uncomplicated but confident adaptation of the original Jules Verne novel, one that answers the question “is it worth doing this again?” with a resounding “yes, if you do it this well.”

It starts with a wager in a private club, as this story always does: Phileas Fogg (David Tennant) bets another member of the Reform Club that it’s possible to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days, and then sets out to prove it. He’s joined by Passepartout (Ibrahim Koma), a waiter looking for a quick way out of London but doesn’t expect the journey to last much longer than that, as well as Abigail ‘Fix’ Fortescue (Leonie Benesch), a journalist determined to carve out a name for herself and thinks that chronicling Fogg’s travels is the best way to do that.

Their voyage takes them from France to India to America, and it’s easy to appreciate Around the World in 80 Days’ episodic format. With a new location and guest cast each week, and a sense that the characters are developing and changing with each new situation they find themselves in, it’s a welcome reprieve from the “eight-hour movie” format that’s increasingly dominating television. (It’s not difficult to imagine, say, a Netflix adaptation of the Jules Verne novel that ends rather than begins with Fogg setting out on his voyage.) Around the World in 80 Days is a television series that knows it’s a television series, one that both understands and is able to take advantage of the strengths of its medium – it sounds like a simple thing to remark on but it’s not, and it adds to that sense of this show as being a particularly confidently made piece.

Really, really loved this show – it was just a properly huge amount of fun. (It also, after a few years of slightly lacklustre efforts from Chris Chibnall, has quite a nice “not quite but almost Doctor Who” quality to it, which I get into a bit in the review.)

Quite looking forward to the second series!

You can find more of my writing about television here, and follow me on twitter @morelandwriter.