Frankie; Keeping Britain Alive; Hannibal – TV review

Frankie's breathless fictional do-goodery pales next to the NHS's real-life drama

There just aren't enough hours in the day for Frankie (BBC1). After waking up with a dramatic flourish, the community nurse with the heart of gold guns her sporty Alfa through the streets of Bristol – no time to waste by driving a clapped-out Yaris – to get to work. Frankie needs to rush because she loves her job and her patients need her. There's the woman trying to look after both her terminally ill husband and a father with Alzheimer's at the same time, even though they live on opposite sides of the city. There's the pregnant army wife whose husband is away in Afghanistan with a daughter who has "undiagnosed symptoms".

Frankie has all the time in the world for her patients. Nothing is too much trouble. She spits in the face of cuts in NHS services. Not enough money? She'll find some from somewhere. She'll break the rules for her patients; even miss her own engagement party. That's how much she cares. Frankie is the poster-girl for an NHS that still puts people first. The only person she doesn't have enough time for is her live-in boyfriend, Ian. But he's a police officer, so he understands her commitment to public service. Though after four years of her breathless do-goodery, he's just about had enough.

Which is three years and 364 days longer than me. I feel bad about this because Frankie is so obviously a good person and I ought to like her. But the relentless cheeriness combined with a deathly dull storyline is a turn-off. Frankie's constant activity may be her displacement for feeling anything, but it's not a good idea to inflict the same disaffection on the audience. Especially not so early in a new series, where the aim should be to hook viewers in. Her patients were so obviously mere outlets for Frankie's Frankieness that I didn't care much whether they lived or died.

To be fair, Frankie was always going to struggle for attention as she's up against so many TV documentaries about hospitals and healthcare, in which real life-and-death scenarios carry so much more impact than any fictional drama. Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS in a Day (BBC2) came to the end of its eight-week run but I'd have been quite happy for it to run on for a few weeks more. Not because it wasn't given enough time to make its key point that the NHS is a huge and varied organisation and that if politicians are going to tinker with it, they'd better be careful; that point was more than effectively made in the first episode and repeated throughout the series. But because it has a rawness that you seldom find elsewhere: there's a far greater depth of human experience to be found in the silences in this series than in the entire script of Frankie.

Much as I watch a hospital doc to admire the skill of the nursing staff and the resilience of their patients, I suspect there may also be an element of voyeurism involved: both a sense of relief that I'm not the one who is going through hell and a curiosity to imagine what it might be like if I were. A similar uncomfortable feeling of voyeurism stayed with me during the second episode of Hannibal (Sky Living).

By far the most interesting aspect of this show is the twisted relationship between Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), the disturbed FBI criminal profiler, and Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) in a pre-Red Dragon incarnation as the psychiatrist who is taken on by the FBI to give Graham some therapy. It is all, naturally enough, laid on heavily with a trowel – I wouldn't trust a shrink whose consulting room was the size of an Olympic swimming pool with a balcony running around the top – but there is a genuine edge to the scenes between them. Shame then, that we get so little of Graham and Lecter together and that so much of the budget has been spent on such explicitly gross scenes.

I've seen a lot of unpleasant death in TV crime dramas, but last night's row of half-buried corpses that had been covered with fertiliser to grow mushrooms on top was about the most graphic. Whoever came up with that one has one sick mind. As does the director, who spent as much time lingering over the stiffs as Graham took to find the perp. But it's all so classily done and a script that can come up with Hannibal saying "Bring your wife; I'd like to have you both for dinner", is almost certain to have me going guiltily back for a third helping. What's that taste in my mouth?

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John Crace

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