Coma, review: Jason Watkins and Channel 5 produce another gripping middle-class nightmare

Jason Watkins in Coma
Jason Watkins in Coma - Channel 5

Coma (Channel 5) is one of those thrillers in which an ordinary person makes a split-second decision that has terrible consequences. For these dramas to be effective, we need to think: yes, in that situation I might behave just like that. Here, this is helped by the casting of Jason Watkins, an actor who is entirely believable as a mild-mannered everyman pushed to his limits.

Watkins plays Simon Henderson, a husband and father whose local area is plagued by antisocial behaviour from an unruly gang. They threaten people outside the supermarket, discard beer bottles in the children’s playground and generally make life miserable for the law-abiding. Pushed to his limits – he’s just been made redundant – and worried about his family, Simon finds himself tormented by one gang member in particular.

One night, in what a defence lawyer would describe as self defence and a prosecutor would call red mist, Simon punches him. We hear a crack as the kid’s head hits the tarmac. The first police officer on the scene asks Simon if he saw what happened. Simon has a choice here: tell the truth and face the consequences, or lie. He chooses the latter.

The detective on the case (Kayla Meikle) may have an easy-going manner, but she can tell something isn’t quite right. Then the victim’s dad, Paul Franklin, comes into the picture, menacingly played by Jonas Armstrong in the style of an angrier-than-usual Roy Keane. “What is it you do?” Simon asks nervously. “I’m a full time gangster,” comes the reply (followed by an only-kidding-mate laugh, but I don’t think he’s kidding).

As the lie grows, so does Simon’s chance of being caught out. Watkins plays it just right as a man in a cold sweat at being dragged into Franklin’s world. Writer Ben Edwards plays up the precarious middle-class lifestyle of Simon and his wife (Claire Skinner), always with a glass of wine in hand and only a few missed mortgage payments away from disaster. The story will play out over four consecutive nights.

I’m pretty forgiving of Channel 5 dramas because they’re made on a fraction of the budget of BBC or Netflix productions – for cost reasons, this one clearly wasn’t filmed in the UK – and they have no delusions of grandeur. They’re unpretentious, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin suspense thrillers in which it’s best to skim over the details (does a blow to the head cause cardiac arrest? Aren’t these actors a bit too old to be playing teenage gang members?).

It may end with a ridiculous final episode (airing on Thursday), because that’s often the way. But Watkins’ performance is good enough to keep watching.