The Deep

This underwater drama is made to be exported.

I have just returned from a work trip to the US where, as is always the case at this time of year, the television networks are frantically plugging their autumn wares. Such trailers should be compulsory viewing for all those who insist that American television is better than our own. Most of the new season's shows look like pap to me. Do I fancy the new drama by J J Abrams, the man who brought us Lost? No, I do not. (Undercovers is a spy show that NBC describes as a "modernised Hart to Hart".) Will I soon be trying to bag myself a box set of Showtime's "uplifting" series The Big C? I doubt it. (Cathy, a suburban mom played by Laura Linney, regards her cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to start "living in the moment".)

Meanwhile, CBS has an "all-new" cop drama starring Tom Selleck, an "all-new" legal drama set in Las Vegas and a not-at-all-new show called Hawaii Five-0. (CBS's entertainment president, Nina Tassler, insists that this is not a remake: "It's a thrilling reboot.")

All of which suggests that the BBC's shlocky new prime-time show The Deep (3 August, BBC1, 9pm) should do well at international auction: I can just see CBS and the rest scrapping over the right to make their own version. In fact, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that the BBC only commissioned this in order to sell it on. Not only is The Deep laughably preposterous; it looks shiny and expensive, too. There's a submarine called Orpheus, which seems not to be made entirely of MDF, and a smaller submersible called Lurch, which only slightly reminds me of my brother's Action Man helicopter, and the cast includes Minnie Driver, late of Hollywood, and Goran Visnjic, late of ER.

In this company, the ubiquitous James Nesbitt looks weirdly hairy and wonky of tooth - though, on the plus side, come auction day, it may well earn him a gig across the pond. When Nesbitt drops his jaw, he looks afraid. When Minnie and Goran drop theirs, they resemble giant groupers. I suppose this is quite appropriate in the circumstances, but you can't call it acting.

Anyway, without further ado, let us dive into The Deep. Driver plays Frances Kelly, captain of the Orpheus, a vessel that contains a crack team of racially diverse oceanographers. The Orpheus is visiting the Arctic in search of deep-sea creatures that will solve the world's energy crisis (or something), a project first begun by a previous sub, the Hermes.

What happened to the Hermes? It was lost at sea, no survivors. But, handily, someone did pick up a recording - God knows how - of its captain shortly before she was asphyxiated while out in Lurch's predecessor. "Oh, God!" she said on the tape. "There's something out there." And then: "It's swallowing me up!" Frances listened to this recording and, very sensibly, immediately shared it with her colleague Clem (Nesbitt), whose wife, Catherine, made it. After all, why shouldn't he know that his poor dead wife was gobbled up by some unseen presence? It's not as if it will affect his important work on ship, is it?

Part one of The Deep ended with one of the younger crew members dying from what looked like a massive nosebleed. Good. I was already quite bored by her. Clem, however, decided that she'd been murdered by a rat-faced man from the MoD whom Frances had unaccountably included in her crew at the last minute. He told Frances of his suspicions but, at the time, she was locked in some kind of air seal with Samson (Visnjic), with whom she's having an affair, and couldn't hear him through the thick glass of its porthole.

Clem, thinking on his feet, wrote: "Raymond has murdered Maddy" on a piece of paper, and waved it at her instead. Frances duly did her best grouper impression. What on earth is going to happen next? God only knows. As the titles rolled, we were treated to the world's longest trailer for part two, and it all looked just as mad. One thing's for sure, though: Minnie will wear her fur-trimmed gilet throughout. Not all oceanographers shop exclusively at North Face, you know - and some people just don't suit Gore-Tex.


Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 09 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The first 100 days