Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Born to Kill; First Dates

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Born to Kill; First Dates

Article excerpt

Psychological thrillers -- or 'thrillers' as they used to be known -- have become almost as ubiquitous on television as they are in the average bookshop. On the whole, this is now a genre where contented domesticity exists solely to be undermined, and where the chief function of the past is to come back and haunt people -- which is clearly what it's going to do in Channel 4's Born to Kill, even if Thursday's increasingly intriguing first episode was in no hurry to explain exactly how.

To begin with, 16-year-old Sam (Jack Rowan) seemed to be on a solo mission to overturn all preconceptions about teenage boys. He started an apparently typical day by making breakfast for his mum, who responded with a heartfelt cry of 'What would I do without you?' On the school bus, he went to the rescue of a fellow pupil who was being bullied. Later that day, he popped into the hospital where his mother works as a nurse, and cheered up a ward full of grateful oldies with some jovial banter and a frankly theatrical reading from Treasure Island.

Yet even at this stage, there were hints that the past would soon be up to its old tricks. Sam kept having flashbacks to a drowning girl. We also know that his dad didn't, as Sam believes, die a hero's death in Afghanistan. Instead, he's in prison for a crime that Sam's mum considers so appalling that she's now preparing a victim's statement for his forthcoming parole hearing.

Not only that, but -- thanks to Rowan's riveting central performance -- Sam's acts of kindness are taking on a deeply sinister edge, with his ready smile becoming more and more unsettling. His dedication to those elderly patients also extends to nabbing some of their hair as a souvenir when they die, and placing it in a special box in the woods. Nor does it seem entirely wise of him to befriend a new girl at school whose ideas on the impossibility of human altruism might have been considered a bit gloomy by Friedrich Nietzsche.

Admittedly, by the end of the episode, we still had no real idea what was going on. Nonetheless, I think it's safe to say that Sam's days as an all-round breakfast-making, bully-confronting, hospital-visiting good egg are over -- and that the programme itself had raised enough disturbing questions (and given us enough confidence in its storytelling) to make us want to stick around for the answers. …

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