A father accompanies his two sleeping children on a train journey to London. As the train prepares to pull out of its penultimate stop, he sees a man throw a mobile phone in the bin before climbing on board. Minutes later, the father – now revealed to be policeman and former soldier David Budd (Richard Madden) – is desperately negotiating with a suicide bomber while armed police surround the train. These opening scenes to Bodyguard make for one of the tensest starts to any new show in a long, long time. And yet, in the next episode, Budd is now the titular bodyguard to Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes) and is trying to protect her from a sniper who is raining bullets on them from the top of an office block. Again, it’s brilliantly staged and unbearably tense.
If you get to the end of that second heart-stopping moment and feel like you can’t take much more of this, then don’t worry; Bodyguard can’t maintain or recapture anywhere near that level of tension over the next four episodes. Realistically, no show could. But when the bullets stop and Keeley Hawes and Richard Madden are off screen, Bodyguard starts to falter, dragged from its pedestal by absurd twists, plot holes large enough to swallow an armour-plated Land Rover and a supporting cast that ranges from ordinary to distractingly awful. In the vein of so many other BBC prestige dramas, it starts great and then wobbles off into the land of the disappointing.
That alone makes BBC’s other September show such an anomaly. Killing Eve starts great, gets better and stays there right to the end. And even though it was universally adored when it debuted across the Atlantic earlier this year, it’s been given a relatively low-key push, at least compared to Bodyguard being exalted from the rooftops like it’s a cure for cancer and the second coming of Christ. Call me a contrarian, but there’s only so many times you can be told this is the most amazing show of the year before you start to wonder why they won’t stop telling you that this is the most amazing show of the year.
At the risk of doing the same thing with Killing Eve (Yes, I know I’ve already praised it to the heavens), Phoebe Waller-Bridges’ increasingly weird cat-and-mouse game between Sandra Oh’s Mi5 agent and Jodie Comer’s sartorially impressive assassin is so brilliantly bonkers and thrillingly taut that it should be the one breaking records and trending across social media. It’s rare to find a show without a chink in its armour, but Killing Eve has no weak spots. The cast are all better than they’ve ever been – even Kim Bodnia and David Haig, who are never less than incredible – and there’s not a milligram of flab to be found in the narrative. It barrels along like its on rails, never once taking itself too seriously.
I don’t hold any ill will against Bodyguard, but when so many great shows come and go unheralded, it’s hard to see what is just a decently entertaining one hyped as if its the British answer to The Sopranos. What I do resent is how it’s starting to feel like there’s only ever room for one show to capture our imaginations at a time. But if that’s really how it has to be, can we at least make sure we pick the right one?
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