14 May, BBC 1 at 9pm
Few television characters are more inoffensive than district nurse Frankie Maddox, the title character in Lucy Gannon’s new six-part series. Frankie is the sort of smiley generic everywoman who typically features in adverts for Boots, where she’s seen skipping down the street with her girlfriends, seemingly chuffed with her purchase of some reasonably priced lipstick. She’s like a real person, except with the rough edges rounded off: a practically perfect woman whose only flaw is that she devotes too much time to trying to be nicer than she already is.
Of course, in a thirty second advert this completely inoffensive character works very well at suckering viewers into buying mascara and shower gel. But when a character whose sole feature is simply being nice fronts an entire television series, it’s often hard to find them quite as endearing as they’re intended to be.
This is largely true of Frankie, a character defined almost entirely by a warmness that could rid the world of its troubles. Played by the brilliantly talented Eve Myles, the character is driven by a desire to help others: at work she goes to extremes to tend to patients, while at home she finds herself treating her shiftless boyfriend with similar care.
In episode one, Frankie’s patients include an old man suffering from severe memory loss who is desperate to avoid going into care, and the pregnant wife of a serving soldier. She also has to deal with cuts to services that her department would have previously been able to provide. But while there is certainly drama at times, the tone of the episode is kept very light throughout, due mainly to Frankie’s wonderfully sunny disposition.
It’s the sort of series that makes a pleasant, although by no means essential, addition to an evening: a programme that one watches privately while wearing a duvet and eating an entire jar of jam. This is feel good television that is so starved of cynicism that it borders on being saccharine, and yet it never quite manages to turn the stomach.
Even though it uses practically every medical drama cliché in the book, there’s just something strangely admirable about a series that is so void of cynicism. In an age where television is saturated with sadistic dream crushing, one automatically assumes that Frankie is on the cusp of some sort of nervous breakdown or that something horrible is going to happen in her world, but it never does. There is no catch or sinister twist. Frankie is just pure unashamed niceness, from beginning to end.