If one genre of TV has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, it’s ’rich people with impressive houses having a terrible time’. Shows like Doctor Foster and Big Little Lies, featuring characters high on interior design but low on morals, have provided the perfect aspirational escapism. And I love them – just throw in some top tier property porn and proof that money can’t buy you happiness, and I’m prepared to make my peace with any number of preposterous plot twists. So, I’m sad to say that the latest addition to this genre – Channel 5’s Intruder – is simply too terrible for me to overlook its hysterical twists and turns. But it does feature a very nice house.
Written and directed by Gareth Tunley, whose debut The Ghoul was Bafta-nominated, this should have been a wheeze. We’ve got all the classic elements. Grand Designs-style gaff? Tick. Married couple in a loveless relationship? Tick. Dramatic inciting incident that forces the protagonists to make terrible decisions? Tick. But like the woefully amateur burglars who set things in motion, everything about Intruder feels bungled or badly thought through, and lots of it is just plain bad. Channel 5 is investing heavily in drama – its recent thriller The Drowning was well received, and Jodie Turner-Smith is set to play Anne Boleyn in a heavily anticipated new series, so it’s unfortunate that this one is such a clanger.
It begins with a woman making a panicked 999 call to report a burglary. She seems a bit reticent about whether or not the man is still in her house, for reasons that will soon transpire. It turns out that after hosting a dinner party, Sam and Rebecca Hickey’s lovely bespoke home by the sea is burgled by two hapless teens. Sam catches one of them, named Syed (Sonny Poon Tip), and stabs him – despite the fact that he was trying to get away. Next thing we know, Sam (Tom Meeten, woefully miscast), Rebecca (Elaine Cassidy) and their friend Angela (Helen Behen) – who was sleeping over after the party – end up staging a crime scene to make it look like self-defence, and Syed is lying dead on their rug, positioned as though he were Tutankhamun (but holding a stanley knife).
The Hickeys are completely fishy. Not least because a) Sam seems to be commuting from Cornwall for his job as London’s most provocative talk radio host, b) Rebecca works for a local newspaper that has survived journalism’s perpetual cuts and everyone works on a shiny Mac, and c) the couple behave as though they’ve never met before. But the cops swallow their story without so much as a word of protest, backed up by Angela – and you thought Line of Duty made the police look bad. The only person who suspects the whole thing might be a bit dodge is warm, caring family liaison officer Bailey (Sally Lindsay), who has a side-hustle in investigating crime from her kitchen table and getting needy phone calls from her mum. She’s sympathetic to Syed’s dad’s pleas that it would have been very out of character for his son to attack anyone.
It seems like the Hickeys are off the hook, but then Sam starts getting threatening texts from an unknown number – and subsequently deleting them. Meanwhile, we’re bombarded with about 700 side-plots, including something to do with a farmer and a drugs ring, and some portentous shots of the inside of some damp caves. Cassidy and Behan (who was so brilliant in Shane Meadows’ The Virtues), both Irish actresses, have been asked to attempt some kind of cut glass English accent that neither seems entirely in command of, and the clunky script includes zingers like “we’ve got far less money than you think – having a house custom built is expensive”. Only Lindsay seems able to take the material beyond a ham-fest.
Ostentatious cardigan-wearer Sam, who tells off racists on the radio and argues about Brexit at dinner parties, feels like an attempt to make this thriller punchy and relevant. And yet the concept of ‘complex female characters’ seems to have entirely passed it by. Rebecca has no personality to speak of, other than looking mysteriously at a black and white photo of said caves, while the revelation at the end of the first episode that Sam and Angela had an affair allows her to be painted as an unhinged psychopath. In fact, the characters are so thinly drawn that the show doesn’t earn its onslaught of hysterical twists and turns – there’s just not enough context given to justify their ridiculous behaviour. Initially, it’s quite comical, but eventually, it just gets annoying. I hate to disappoint fellow property porn enthusiasts, but you’d probably be better off just browsing Right Move for an hour.
Intruder starts on Channel 5 on April 5 and then airs consecutively each night until Thursday