‘Inside Men’: Episode 2 review

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A common mistake made by new students during Freshers’ Week is to pal up with the first people they meet in the union.

Individuals who seem like made-to-measure soulmates after eight Purple Nasties often turn out to be the most least appropriate folk to befriend since Robin Tunney became bezzies with Fairuza Balk in The Craft – and anyone who found themselves warming to Marcus, Chris and John after the first episode of Inside Men may have sympathy for the shy, retiring, biochemistry undergraduates who inadvertently get chummy with predatory rugby players for whom anything under twenty pints is a quiet night in.

In the opening instalment of Tony Basgallop’s thriller, all three principal characters seemed fairly appealing – and crucially, all of them were interesting and believable. Yet at some point during tonight’s second part, a lot of the congeniality and most of the authenticity fades away like dust after sundown.

Marcus – who was, admittedly, the least agreeable member of the group – not only demonstrates that his heist plan was a one-hit wonder moment of inspiration (handing over £40k of ‘borrowed’ money to genuine gangster Kalpesh is hardly the act of a criminal genius) but also reveals a litany of unpleasant traits including casual racism, aggressive sexual arrogance and a cavalier attitude towards his co-conspirators that borders on betrayal.

‘Don’t try and be funny,’ his brother-in-law warns him, but this isn’t something of which he could ever truthfully be accused. Marcus’s most obnoxious moments are when he’s trying to be amusing – particularly when bickering with the equally objectionable security guard Tom, whose attempts at Wildean wit only extend as far as sub-Inbetweeners jibes like ‘Night night, benders!’ – and not even his apparently genuine and reciprocal love for girlfriend Gina is enough to prevent you wishing it was him who’d received the bullet in the back of the leg instead of stolidly dependable Chris.

Such a lack of congeniality isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself – liking characters has never been a prerequisite to believing in them – but John’s transformation from dithering do-gooder to calculating, concrete-conscienced criminal takes implausibility to hitherto unexplored regions of Outer WTF and warps the credibility of the drama beyond repair.

It’s understandable that the prospect of committing an audacious crime would have an effect on even the most unassuming participants, but to believe that a timid middle-management type has become an iron-willed mastermind of the illicit – let alone the icily swaggering locker room bully who threatens a man he thinks has been flirting with his wife – simply because his jocular boss has given him a few tips on how to toughen up for interviews is preposterous.

Hearing him sneering to a stranger, ‘I’m not the pussy who’s backing down, am I?’ when he couldn’t bring himself to sack Dita for nicking £20 brings credence crashing down like a bulldozed wall.

This sudden loss of credulity is a shame, really, because the serial remains a compelling one. If its characters were still sympathetic, it might be easier to care whether they get away with it or whether they lose their liberty, limbs or life. As it is, when Kalpesh says to John, ‘I’ve enjoyed this,’ it’s difficult to agree.

Aired at 9pm on Thursday 9th February 2012 on BBC One.

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