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Point of Impact: "Collision" Fails to Hit Its Mark on PBS' "Masterpiece Contemporary"

Not every single British limited series can hit it out of the park, unfortunately.

Following closely on the heels of the superlative and gripping thriller Place of Execution, the ambitious Collision--which launches Sunday evening as part of PBS' Masterpiece Contemporary strand and is currently airing across the week in the UK on ITV1--doesn't reach the dizzying heights or emotional sucker punch of Place of Execution.

Written by Anthony Horowitz and Michael A. Walker, the five-part Collision (which will air in two installments in the States) circles the aftermath of a fatal highway road accident, which leaves several parties dead or injured but which manages to derail the lives of everyone even tangentially involved, from the police detective investigating the cause of the crash to a Happy Chef waitress whose workplace was just down the road from the site of the fatal accident.

As its narrative unfolds in a series of shifting perspectives, Collision seeks to bring to life each of the characters who were on the scene the day of the accident, flashing backwards to reveal just what they were doing before the fateful crash that unexpectedly intertwined their lives. It's an ambitious conceit but one that the writers aren't quite able to bring to fruition, unfortunately.

Not helping matters is that we really don't get a sense of each of these people despite spending five hours with them reliving the crash and the moral and ethical boundaries they opt to cross both before and after the accident. While the plot meanders between household tragedy to corporate espionage, the characters remain rather one-dimensional and it's difficult to care much for any of them. The series seeks to peel back the layers of these characters and give us some hidden depth as well as shocking twists but several of these can be seen a mile down the road. (In particular, one such twist will come as no surprise to anyone who watched The Wire.)

Anchoring the piece is Douglas Henshall (Primeval), who plays Detective Inspector John Tolin, who is himself recovering from a personal tragedy nine months earlier which should make him the absolute wrong person to be investigating a series of collision fatalities. His dogged persistence to get to the bottom of the crash, as well as uncovering a host of other non-related mysteries related to the victims, is meant to be Collision's throughline but it gets muddled in a storyline about forgiveness, both personal and otherwise, as well as romantic subplot with traffic cop Ann Stallwood (Kate Ashfield).

As the investigation gets underway, it kicks up a number of crimes and misdemeanors along the way and ensnares dozens of characters, some of whom are played by such notables as Dean Lennox Kelly, David Bamber, Lenoard Crichlow, Lucy Griffiths, Clair Rushbrook, Paul McGann, Phil Davis, and many, many others. Some of these plots lead somewhere bleak, while others seem to cul-de-sac along the way.

While I applaud the filmmaker's ambition and drive to tell a story this large and complex, Collision doesn't seem to quite add up to the sum of its parts, leading to an overall feeling of vertigo, ennui, and, if I'm being honest, a bit of road rage as well.

Collision airs its first part Sunday night at 9 pm ET/PT as part of PBS' Masterpiece Contemporary. Check your local listings for details.


Hannah said…
Ouch. Think I'll skip this one. Although, on your recommendation, I did watch Place of Execution and it was brilliant! Thanks!
Alexandra said…
Have to disagree. US reader here. I saw Place of Execution recently and found the ending curiously unsatisfying - and implausible. I tuned in to the first half of "Collision" tonight. It builds slowly, but it reeled me in and after the first episode tonight, which just ended, I'm definitely looking forward to Part 2 of 2 next week.
Steph said…
I have to disagree with the review. I'm in the US and watched the first half of Collision last night. I found it quite gripping. Perhaps my opinion will change once I've seen the second half and resolution, but for now I'm very impressed with the story, plot entanglements and editing.

I did watch Place of Execution and while it wasn't horrible, the book was miles better. The ending was much too implausible and seemed to be pandering to the audience as though we wouldn't care enough about the victims if we didn't really know them like we knew Catherine.
Tom said…
I missed the first 10 minutes or so, but was quite captivated by the story. Kate Ashfield is very good as Inspector Stallwood.
Nina said…
I really enjoyed the 1st half of Collision. I'm looking forward to the conclusion tonight on Masterpiece.
Franco said…
I found Collision to be entertaining, well-written and well-acted. It is difficult to build complex characterisation in such a short televisual passage of time especially with so many "main" protagonists. That the writers did this, and did it well, is a testament to the conciseness of their writing and the good acting of the ensemble cast. I found it very enjoyable. Keep up the good work PBS!
Anonymous said…
I have to disagree with your review here. I watched Collision on DVD last night, and I thought it was really well executed.

The car crash scenes were well choreographed. They were realistic too. Nothing exploded or caught fire like American car crash scenes. I really liked the ending.

As well, many screenwriting books proselytize against the use of flashbacks. But I thought Collision was an excellent demonstration of how to effectively use flashbacks.

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