TV Review: The Street (3/6), BBC One, Thursday 22 November, 9pm

Ever wondered what you’d do if a man made a pass at you? Or are you “100% normal,” as Charlie claims to be? Perhaps you think you’d handle it pretty well, but then you’d probably be thinking it would happen in a bar, or at a party. What if it was one of the guys you were working away from home with? What if you happened to be sharing a hotel room with him? Not so easy to handle then, eh? Not so easy to get back to sleep, either. And then, you have the next night to look forward to.

On the face of it, Charlie (Vincent Regan) is a regular married guy with a wife, Roz, and two teenage kids. He works demolition, which often involves short stays away from home for 3-4 days. On his latest trip, he ends up sharing a room with Tom (Will Mellor). During a conversation about infidelity, Tom twists what Charlie says about the other man into a statement about how Charlie must be able to appreciate why a man is good looking, and therefore must find that man good looking himself. Later he tries to climb into bed with Charlie, to “prove a point.”

Charlie’s outraged, and the next day tries to change rooms, telling the foreman that Tom snores. But the firm only pay for double rooms and if Charlie wants to move, he’ll have to pay for himself. Reluctantly, he carries on sharing with Tom. That night, conversation turns to why Tom thought Charlie would be interested, and after an all-too-brief matter-of-fact discussion, Charlie decides he is and the two men sleep together.

On the last day of the job the boss asks if the men want to work late, or stay over one more night and finish the next morning. By now Charlie is keen to spend as much time with Tom as possible, although the shared glances across the rubble are all they can manage during the day. The building site is an ultimately macho domain where “queers” aren’t tolerated, and Tom is a past master at disguising his true feelings. Charlie suggests they go for a pint, but Tom insists it’ll be on “his terms” – which turns out to mean drinking at a gay bar. Charlie is initially uncomfortable at the sight of so many openly gay and scantily clad blokes, but after Tom tells him to relax and pours a couple of pints down him, he starts to enjoy himself. That is, until he’s mugged in the toilets and has all his demolition wages, and his watch, stolen.

As in so many of McGovern’s stories, this one incident starts the whole of Charlie’s world unravelling. He can’t hide his head injury from Roz, so he claims to have done it at work. He tells her he lost all his money at the casino – something he’s apparently done before and promised not to do again. Why this is a more acceptable lie than simply telling her he was mugged was lost on me. The next morning, Roz notices his watch is missing and he tells her he lost it at the hotel, but she calls them and discovers they know nothing about it. Grasping at straws, Charlie tells her it must have been another manager he dealt with.

Determined to protect himself from future muggings, Charlie visits a gym and signs up for boxing lessons. His tissue of lies is just about holding together, until it’s torn to pieces by the arrival at his house of the police, with Charlie’s watch. A piece of “evidence” in their case against a mugger who deliberately targets married men in gay bars, knowing they are more likely to keep their mouths shut. Charlie insists he lost the watch and refuses to admit he was in the bar, in the toilets, when the “loss” occurred. The police, frustrated, leave him alone, but Charlie has to come up with a different cover story and tells Roz that he and Tom had a couple of prostitutes back to their hotel room and it was them who stole his stuff.

Meanwhile, Charlie is fighting a battle on another front – trying to come to terms with what happened between him and Tom. Trying to admit to himself that he’s always been bisexual. He calls a gay helpline, but is not impressed with their advice to come out. “No-one comes out round here,” he snarls between gritted teeth. “No-one’s gay round here.”

At school, Charlie’s son Luke is receiving texts in class about his Dad being “queer” and getting mugged in the toilets. The copper with Charlie’s watch has been shooting his mouth off at home. Luke beats the kid up, Charlie is called in to sort it out, and one more thread of his life unravels. Back home, Roz has seen the phone bill and loses her rag about someone calling an “08” number. I guess it must be a “national” rate 08 and not a freecall, but it still seemed strange to make such a big deal out of it, and in the space of a few days it hardly seems likely that that single number could have accounted for much of their £190 bill. Still, dramatic licence and all that. Roz has done a bit more detective work and discovered the number is a gay helpline, so she assumes Luke is the caller.

Finally, Charlie has to own up to what’s been happening, and watch the last few threads of his life fall apart as Roz and the kids move out. Word has spread beyond his four walls, too. Amazingly the gym owner “made a mistake” and there’s no longer a vacancy for him there. At work, Charlie has the piss taken when he stands behind someone in a queue. Devastated, he walks off the site to sit alone at home until, magically, Roz returns, his kids start treating him like a normal Dad again, and on his next trip away from home Roz makes a point of telling him that she’s packed his “goggles,” which we assumed was a euphemism for an altogether different type of protection.

While for the most part this was well played by the excellent Vincent Regan and Will Mellor, and their supporting cast was strong, I felt let down by what could have been a really edgy story but in the end copped out. The idea was one of the strongest I’ve seen so far on The Street, and it started well. So why did it lose its way near the end? Each house on The Street contains life that looks ordinary and “normal” on the outside, and yet is anything but under the surface. But does that life always have to return to normality by the end of the story, even when it’s desperately unrealistic for it to do so?

In an area where “no-one’s gay round here,” would Charlie really have been subjected to such half-hearted homophobia? Would his wife of however-many-years have taken a single night to digest his bisexuality and decide she could not only live with it, but accept it to the point where she’d pack him a packet of three every time he went off to work? And incidentally, where was he going off to work at? With a set of matey builders who had all decided he was still the same old Charlie?

No, in the end what could have been one of the best Street episodes of both series turned out to be as unsatisfying as a Chinese meal even though, like a Chinese meal, it was good while you were in the middle of it.

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