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Television & Radio | TELEVISION REVIEW

Lives in a tumult behind a neighborhood's doors

October 03, 2006|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Point of view is now a lead character on TV. "The Nine," ABC's hottest drama pilot, has no big names, per se; its star is a bank hostage-taking ordeal that, like the plane crash on "Lost," promises to spin out into the future and past.

"The Street," an often-gripping miniseries premiering tonight on BBC America and set on a working-class block around Manchester, England, spins out in this fashion too. In the first of six installments, two married neighbors, Angela (Jane Horrocks) and Peter (Shaun Dooley), begin to steal morning quickies together while the rest of their families go off to meet the day. Everything changes, however, when Peter, trying to glimpse Angela through her window as he pretends to drive to work, turns back just in time to see Angela's little daughter, Kate, dart out into the street and bounce off of his hood. She's left in a coma.

The first hour of "The Street" is about what happens next among the two families, the deceptions that unravel into recriminations, sorrow and regret. It is also how we come to meet some of the other characters on the block -- Stan (Jim Broadbent), who we will learn is a warehouse foreman being forced to retire; Eddie (Timothy Spall), who we will learn is a cabdriver in a marriage in which he functions as a doormat; and Yvonne (Christine Bottomley), who we will learn is in a brutally abusive situation with her lowlife husband.

"The Street" is not a serial in the way that the word has come to be defined here, which is to say it does not, over its six hours, double back on a seminal episode in the lives of its characters by way of highlighting their interconnectedness and texturing the plot.

The accident, in fact, only seems tangentially to affect the others. Created by Jimmy McGovern, who also did the fine BBC detective series "Cracker," starring Robbie Coltrane, "The Street" is more a collection of short stories in which characters recur in each other's stories but only to juxtapose the literal proximity versus the figurative distance.

Lives intersect here, sometimes touchingly, redemptively so, but those six degrees of separation remain, often, decidedly separate. Brian Peterson (Neil Dudgeon) is a schoolteacher who, through a series of events, finds himself in a Kafka-esque nightmare that has him labeled a pervert at his school and on his block. A few doors down, Broadbent's Stan witnesses the accident in the first hour, but his episode is more existential lament: At 65, he's forced to retire and, to avenge a system that doles out his pension in measly bites, decides to kill himself so that his wife will receive a lump-sum windfall.

Throughout, "The Street" has the naturalistic and uniformly well-acted feel of "The Wire." Like that HBO series, it establishes place through language, and London, like the yuppie parts of Baltimore in "The Wire," is never seen, only referred to as a bright-lights, big-city place.

What makes "The Street" a series, finally, is that there's a unanimity of theme and rhythm. Each episode begins inside one of these red doors -- a couple bickers as the kids look on, a blind father polishes the soccer cleats of his promising footballer of a son. The marriages in "The Street" are either violent or half-dead or numb or threatened by crisis. Routine slows time to a halt, until everything happens in a whir. Punches get thrown, connect. There's always the pub.

"When you're 20, a year is a 20th of what you've already lived," Stan says, building to his decision to off himself. "That's still a fair bit, but when you're 65, a year is only a 65th of what you've lived, and that's nothing. It'll race by. And the year after that. And the year after that. Racing by."

In the next installment, in Brian's story, Stan -- feeling better or worse or the same, you can't tell -- reappears. "We know you're a good man, Brian," Stan says. "We know it's a load of nonsense."

It's a brief encounter, and Brian hugs him -- madly, deeply -- before the two head back into their lives.

*

paul.brownfield@latimes.com

*

'The Street'

Where: BBC America

When: 10 to 11 tonight

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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