‘Roadkill’ is a worthy mental exercise

Monday, November 9, 2020 - 2:33pm

NOSELL

BBC One

PBS’s “Roadkill” is a topical political drama that investigates power dynamics, corruption and scandal. If you’re thinking this sounds like the concept of most political dramas, you’d be right. But stick with me here.

There are some notable factors that set “Roadkill” apart from other political dramas. For one, Hugh Laurie (“House”) and Helen McCrory (“Peaky Blinders”) offer captivating performances, and Laurie in particular manages to perfectly encapsulate the sleazy charm of politician Peter Laurence. The show also features a number of compelling characters, notably diverse women with agency. Its subtle yet relevant social commentary is the real strength of the show.

Laurence is the epitome of the modern politician, complete with his own scandals and podcast-style talk show. The series parallels two sides of him: one that keeps appearances, says the right things and respects decorum, and one that clearly abuses his power at every opportunity. While Laurence offers a bleak answer to the question of how much the public is willing to ignore their leaders, the series offers alternative perspectives as well, though subtly. Various women loosely connected to Laurence’s life all follow their own threads, unraveling Laurence’s facade of strength from the angles of journalism, law and politics. 

The gender politics embedded throughout the show are fantastic not just because they exist, but specifically because of the subtle ways they manifest. There are poignant moments when dominant male characters’ power is called into question, like when newspaper editor Joe Lapidus (Pip Torrens, “The Crown”) is criticized by his female colleague for his sexist comments toward women working under him. Other moments, like when Laurence criticizes his female staffer’s appearance and her coworker notes how such behavior is uncalled for, also begin to call abuse into question. 

With that being said, even as a fan of political dramas, there are a lot of moments that make “Roadkill” too stuffy to be considered watchable. There are too many scenes where I was tempted to utilize the double speed function (an interesting feature offered by PBS, by the way). While this can be attributed to the pilot developing necessary exposition, the pacing felt markedly slow even for an episode meant to set up the story. This is largely the result of dialogue in scenes that are too meandering for their purpose. Furthermore, the sheer number of plotlines and characters can be considered overambitious, because the number of stories to follow gets tiring. Yet, I have to concede that there is a satisfaction in realizing how the stories come together, so long as the show can successfully do so in future episodes.

Ultimately, “Roadkill” is a lot to take in. If you’re looking for poignant political commentary, particularly across gendered lines, “Roadkill” is a worthwhile mental exercise. While I was intrigued by a lot of what the show had to offer, I also felt fatigued by its slow pacing and Goliath of plotlines. I’ll simply say that if patience is a virtue, “Roadkill” is worth your while.

Daily Arts Writer Sarah Rahman can be reached at srah@umich.edu.

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