Sky One’s comedy drama is an x-rated Last of the Summer Wine but the lead character’s mental illness is sadly what excites most reviewers.
Brassic (Sky One) feels like the sort of TV comedy drama they last made about 15 years ago but would never get commissioned now, certainly not by the BBC. Almost all of the main characters — apart from love interest Michelle Keegan — are white, male and heterosexual. And it’s set in the kind of Lancashire market town surrounded by rolling sheep country where the opportunities for plausible diversity casting are really quite limited. So how come it has been getting such glowing notices from all the previewers and reviewers?
For the Guardian’s reviewer, however, Kemp was engaged in some kind of macho death urge as he heroically laid his arse on the line in northern Syria.
Before I set about reviewing Ross Kemp: The Fight Against Isis (Sky 1), I thought I’d have a glance to see whether other critics had been as impressed as I was. Clearly the flip groovester from the Guardian — who opened, inevitably, with a jaunty quip about Grant from EastEnders — had seen a very different documentary from the one I saw. Otherwise, he could not have failed to be moved by Kemp’s heartbreaking interview with the Yazidi woman from Sinjar who’d recently escaped from Isis.
Her 10-year-old daughter squatted beside her — only survivor of the five children she had had when Isis captured her town. The eldest (11) had been immediately commandeered as a sex slave; the three youngest had been deliberately poisoned a few months later by Isis when the family had tried to escape. Pictures of their bodies were posted on social media as a warning to others.
What struck me — as it does time and again with footage like this from Iraq and Syria — is these people’s matter of fact tone as they recount atrocities more befitting the era of the Mongol horde than the age of safe spaces, transgender toilets and Pokémon Go. ‘They killed my mother in front of me,’ volunteers a middle-aged man with a moustache, almost as an afterthought. Horror has become so commonplace they have been brutalised into a numbness you might easily mistake for indifference.
You saw this most chillingly in the eyes of an IS fighter who’d been caught in a police sweep of a recently captured village. His face was hidden by a balaclava; all you could see were murky dead eyes which didn’t even have the decency to look haunted. He’d joined mainly for the $70-a-month regular income, he told Kemp, first al-Qaeda then IS. No, he hadn’t personally beheaded people — they had specialists to do that. And did he have any regrets? ‘When you get captured you look at it and ask: “What is all this for?”,’ said the man, flat and empty, like really all that murdering and crucifixion had been a bit of a fag which, yeah, come to think of it probably hadn’t been the best career move.