Press: episode 1 review: Death Knock

With an intriguing premise and Mike Bartlett at the helm, the BBC’s new series, Press delves deep into the heart of the newspaper industry…

There’s something agreeably quaint about TV shows and films that go out of their way to defend the press because it’s an honourable stance seldom taken any more. Every now and again a film or a series, like Spotlight or The Post, comes along to remind us why the media is so valuable, and you forget that the freedom of the press is rarely talked about. With the current climate around the media being so hostile and the decline of newspapers as a medium, it’s amazing that more series like Press haven’t been made.

On the flip side, that doesn’t stop Press from feeling just that little bit rote. Despite a few game performances none of the characters feel particularly lived-in; as a protagonist, Holly is the ultimate cliché, a solitary, determined stalwart at a quasi-Guardian trying to do her best. Charlotte Riley gives an undeniably strong performance but there’s little about Holly that feels original and when the series’ anchor feels a bit tired it doesn’t exactly bode well.

Press is watchable stuff but it’s written by Mike Bartlett so there was little doubt there. Bartlett thrilled us with his domestic drama Doctor Foster and between off-brand Katie Hopkins and undercover spy, Wendy Bolt, Holly’s murdered flatmate, Andrea, and the revelation of a government minister’s past drug habit, it’s fairly gripping stuff. What it’s missing, however, is that trademark Bartlett sharpness, the dynamite synergy between his scripts and his stars.

Aside from plucky do-gooder Holly, there’s Ed, the new reporter on the block at war with his morals. The Post is a broad caricature of The Sun and The Daily Mail – the Milly Dowler-ish enquiry referenced felt almost a pastiche too far – and seeing one of their own conflicted over whether to excel at his job or remain principled is an interesting dilemma even if there’s better satire to be found on Twitter.

That right there is the biggest problem with Press – with everything happening both at home and in America, there’s oodles of satire to go around. We’re in a position where politicians don’t need satirising because they’re doing a fine job themselves, so Press’ observations about ethics in journalism are valid but too earnest at this point.

We’re so regularly reminded of the pros and cons of the modern-day press – the binary seemingly represented here by The Herald and The Post – so nothing Press has to say in its first episode is particularly innovative. Everyone is someone we’ve seen before; there’s the sleazy, amoral editor in Ben Chaplin’s Duncan, the out of her league reporter in Ellie Kendrick’s Leona, and David Suchet pops up as a thinly-veiled Rupert Murdoch type.

Press is enjoyable, watchable stuff, but there’s already the feeling that its simple thoughts on the press aren’t enough to support a whole series. Given everything it takes aim at – tabloid papers, News Corp, morality and the lack thereof in journalism – it just feels a few years past its sell-by date already.