Cheat - A finely-tooled potboiler with terrific female leads

Molly Windsor and Katherine Kelly starred in Cheat this week
Molly Windsor and Katherine Kelly starred in Cheat this week

The recent scandal over various filthy rich Americans and Hollywood stars greasing the wheels to get their kids into prestigious universities stateside reminds me that even the powerful feel the need to cheat.

Why? Maybe to stay in power. Maybe for the kudos of having a kid in Harvard. It baffles me, as baffled as I was by the end of Cheat (ITV, Mon-Thurs, 9pm).

Katherine Kelly played Leah Dale, a lecturer at a college built from stone so honeyed you could develop diabetes just looking at it.

Leah has a recalcitrant student, Rose (Molly Windsor), who Leah fails for handing in an essay bought off the internet. From there, we know things end in tears, thanks to the bookending scenes in the first episode – in prison and the morgue.

So far, so intriguing, but by the time we get to the climax in the fourth episode, Rose’s motives for victimising Leah get a bit muddy, involving family secrets, rejection and a bit of Fatal Attraction-esque cat killing.

It’s great to see two women in the leads, and the scenes between Kelly and the brilliant Windsor crackle –both playing women struggling to keep it together.

But the men. Oh god, the men. They’re just so dismal. Tom Goodman-Hill plays Adam, Leah’s husband, who cheats with Rose at the first time of asking, and is wetter than a March weekend in the Lakes.

Peter Firth, as Leah’s dad, is another man whose trousers fall off at the first flutter of a woman’s eyelashes, while Burn Gorman plays a college porter so enraptured by Rose that he will do anything for her.

It’s all a bit of a potboiler by the end – a lovely-looking, finely plotted, well-acted potboiler. But nothing special. A bit like those American kids whose moms and pops cheated so badly.

MotherFatherSon (BBC2, Wednesdays, 9pm) really upped its game this week, its Shakespearean family tragedy coming with more intrigue via flashbacks, and a dollop of gore too.

Shetland (BBC1, Tuesdays, 9pm) meanwhile, has all the forward momentum of a glacier. It needs to go back to dealing with its stories in two, hour-long episodes – it’s too thin to stretch over six weeks.