I have a theory that Sheridan Smith could be given the plot and script of a primary school play and still manage to turn it into captivating must-see drama.
By the end of the first half, everyone would be sobbing or laughing – desperate to know what the future held for the donkey or spaceman, or other hero.
That’s not to say that the plot of ITV’s new drama Cleaning Up on Wednesday was basic. Far from it, it told a neat tale of conspiracy while raising issues about debt and gambling.
But it was Sheridan, star of Gavin & Stacey, Cilla and Care, who elevated a soapy, hard-to-believe plot into something more gritty.
She plays downtrodden single mum Sam, addicted to online gambling, spinning roulette on her phone at every spare moment.
Working nights as a zero hours contract cleaner at London offices, a scene where Sam colours in a stubborn carpet stain with a marker pen told us she has a rebellious streak. It also reminded us that Sharpies are incredibly useful.
As she shouted at her kids, then danced around the living room with them, we also learned that she fell into the category of Good Mum, Trying Her Best.
There was plenty of comedy. “If he touches you, I’ll chop his bloody willy off,” she told teen Alice, dating an older boy.
She’d already told her youngest, Lily, to “knock Jadeen’s block off”.
But she ate baked beans for dinner, giving her kids the last fish fingers, in a desperately sad scene. How many UK parents are similarly struggling to feed their families? Far too many.
Meanwhile, Sam’s ex Dave, played by Matthew McNulty, wanted custody.
He may have had it off with his massage therapist, but Cheating Dad is better than Gambling Mum, right? To be fair, with Sam’s maxed-out credit cards and £17,000 owing to a loan shark, he had a point.
“It’s just a little flutter now and again,” Sam insisted, her text thumb twitching.
The drama didn’t dwell on the misery.
Sam overheard a trader doing dodgy deals late at night.
To him, cleaners Sam and her mate Jess, played by Jade Anouka, were lowly, invisible beings. This meant that A) he was a moron, and B) they had an advantage.
They planted a listening device to pick up some tips. Then, after a quick internet search, Sam read a copy of Investing In Shares For Dummies.
Sam told Jess: “We’re just a couple of cleaners. No one’s gonna know.”
By the end there was good news and bad news. They made a few hundred quid but the listening device hidden in the air shaft was clanging loudly.
Are they going to get caught? I’ll be investing in another episode to find out.
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