Boat Story review: This frenetic, violent coke-com goes full steam ahead, but could be in danger of sinking thanks to plot holes below the waterline
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Written by the Williams brothers, Harry and Jack – the men behind The Missing and its spin-off Baptiste – this twisty-turny affair combined black comedy with huge splashes of claret.
A tale of two losers, Janet (Daisy Haggard) and Samuel (Paterson Joseph) who stumble across a boat stuffed to the gunwales with cocaine, the tone lurched unevenly from caper comedy to – for a Sunday night, anyway – extreme violence.
There are certainly a few moments in the opening two episodes which you wouldn't want to be watching while eating your tea.
The slightly disorientating effect is only strengthened by the intrusion into the action of different devices and formats.
There is a deep-throated narrator offering a sort of Greek chorus overview of the action - “The action starts here, under a pylon with a severed head, of all things” - silent movie title cards, split screens and musical theatre interludes.
The whole thing also shares a lot with another recent coke-com – Stephen Merchant's The Outlaws.
There are the slightly hapless protagonists getting mixed up in the underworld, the sudden outbreaks of violence, the foreign bad guy.
It also shares the idea that these are people with nothing to lose – they've hit rock bottom and now the only way is up, whether that's illegal or not.
Applebury, the northern seaside town in which they find themselves - “makes Peterborough look like Portugal” - is the kind of place dreams go to die, while Janet and Samuel both have problems that give them ample motive for a drug-dealing side-hustle.
“Sometimes the world throws you a bone,” Samuel tells Janet when they find the boat full of drugs. “You don't always see it, you don't always recognise it, but this, what is happening right now, this is the world throwing us a bone.”
Of course, the problem is that you've got to accept that these two losers – meek, unfulfilled, put-upon – would have the gumption to take the drugs, pose as East European gangsters and take on continental gangsters with a penchant for tongue-related torture.
If you do accept that, then Boat Story flies along keeping you on your toes at all times, not knowing who might die – generally in an horrifically bloody fashion – who is related to whom and who Janet and Samuel can trust.
Even if the story takes one too many outlandish turns, Boat Story still has enough about it to keep you engaged. Not as laugh out loud funny as The Outlaws, it definitely has enough lines to lift a smile, while the outbreaks of violence at least make you understand that they are consequences to the actions of Janet and Samuel, most of them deeply unpleasant.
With a twist at the end of episode one – which you can probably guess if you pay attention – it's difficult to know exactly where Boat Story is going to end up.
Given the frenetic changes of tone and pace, the style switches and the sheer throw it at the wall and see if something sticks, it will not drift with the tide – but let's hope later episodes catch a wave.