Press Episode 2 takes a lot of liberties with authenticity and believability, which would be fine if it were doing so to tell an engaging story. So far, however, it isn’t.
In the opening scene of Press Episode 2, Duncan Allen (Ben Chaplin), editor of the sensationalist right-wing rag The Post, had a conversation with the pretty blonde lady he secretly pays for sex. They discussed, briefly, his background, which at the end of the scene he confesses he made up. When he’s told that as a newsman he should care about information, he reveals that he doesn’t – he cares about the story.
That kind of thing is typical of Mike Bartlett’s new media drama, which paints a rather obvious and contrived portrait of tabloid journalism that is less full of insight than it is clichés. Which is a shame, really. There’s a strong cast here, and the odd moment of wit or incisive observation, but it’s all coming together in a second-hand industry pastiche that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be from one scene to the next.
On the one hand, you have the liberal broadsheet The Herald predictably failing thanks to not giving the people what they truly want – which is, apparently, photographs of young celebrities. Their latest approach is to tie that kind of aimless gossip-mongering into proper current-affairs stories, mostly as a concession to news editor Holly Evans (Charlotte Riley), who wanted the front page to display a story about the government repealing disability benefits and getting away with it because of a low voter turnout. That’s solid-enough stuff, but Press Episode 2 also saw fit to include a sub-plot about the paper accepting wraparound ads from a company which their own investigative reporter discovered was using child labour to churn out its products. I get that the point is to highlight hypocrisy here, but it succeeding more in making all the characters involved seem rather stupid.
The Herald’s editor Amina (Priyanga Burford) suffered worst, displaying a level of naiveté that you can’t imagine someone in her position would have. She also, in the same episode, shared a scene with a 33-year-old who had apparently never heard of VHS tapes. Really? That’s the kind of lazy writing I can’t get behind, and the show’s new stereotypically millennial rookie, Leona (Ellie Kendrick), wasn’t much better.
Maybe this says more about me than it should, but I’m much more interested in what’s happening at The Post, where this week Duncan went after a steel union boss as a favour for a friend, and despatched his own rookie (Paapa Essiedu) – who he fired and re-hired during the morning briefing – to a VIP Halloween party dressed up as a polar bear. The bear was to drum up interest for the paper’s rehoming of the real-life version, but there’s always time to dig up more scandal.
With Press Episode 2 there’s a predictable pattern beginning to emerge: first, the morning briefing, where the rival papers approach the same news items from different angles; then, the chasing down of those stories, again with different approaches; inevitably there’ll be time for Duncan and Holly to have a leading chat on the street outside; and by the end everyone will have learned something about themselves – or not, as the case may be. There’s nothing inherently wrong with structure, of course, but seeing as the most intriguing plot thread from the premiere episode wasn’t even mentioned, you have to wonder if Press is chasing the right stories.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.