The week in TV: Raising a School Shooter; Long Lost Family; Kathy Burke: Money Talks; Nordic Murders

Raising a School Shooter (BBC Four) | BBC iPlayer
Long Lost Family (ITV) |
Kathy Burke: Money Talks (Channel 4) |
Nordic Murders (All 4) |

The Storyville documentary Raising a School Shooter arrived in the television schedules like the screeching of an alarm. Film-makers Frida and Lasse Barkfors (Pervert Park; Death of a Child) tipped the focus a different way on school shootings to ask: what if your child pulled the trigger?

The documentary featured three cases from the US, where the vast majority of such atrocities occur. One interviewee was Sue Klebold, whose son Dylan, 17, and Eric Harris, 18, were responsible for 1999’s Columbine high school massacre. Coinciding with the birth of rolling news, Columbine remains the macabre brand leader, as it were, of school shootings – the teenagers killed 12 students and a teacher, and seriously injured many more, before both killed themselves. In 2001, Jeff Williams’s son, Andy, 15, killed two classmates and wounded 13 more in Ohio. In 1988 in Virginia, Clarence Elliot’s son, Nicholas, 16, killed one teacher and wounded another, for which he was sentenced to life, plus 114 years.

Klebold examined teenage depression and murder-suicide in her 2016 book on Columbine, A Mother’s Reckoning. In this documentary she spoke of how she only fully accepted Dylan’s guilt after watching him spout racist, sadistic filth on a video, at which point, for her, “God died”. Williams and Elliot blamed bullying for their sons’ violence, and it was moving and humanising to hear the fathers talking to their incarcerated sons over the phone (“Hey bud, can you hear me?” “Yes, sir”). With all the parents, there was the sense that, when your child is considered a monster, you become a pariah by default, and that furthermore you are irrevocably changed, a mere placeholder for your former self. Certainly, there was scant hope of public redemption, as Williams grimly put it: “He’s my son, the school shooter, and it’s going to stay that way.”

This was a raw, unsettling, valuable documentary, but I would have liked some scrutiny of the US justice system (Williams is eligible for parole in 2025, while Elliot, a person of colour, has been denied six times). US gun culture was also frustratingly underexamined. The all-powerful US gun lobby’s mantra is: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”, but there has to be wider cultural accountability for how guns end up in angry, immature kids’ hands.

All these series on, I still have a soft spot for Long Lost Family, the ITV programme that reunites birthparents and children. Presenters Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall barely have to greet the searchers and I’m misting up in unseemly Pavlovian readiness for … what exactly? Abandonment porn? An unedifying cheap-seats emotional thrill?

In my defence, I never liked the Surprise, Surprise reunions – those felt too “showbiz”, too “Saturday night”. By contrast, Long Lost Family was practising “duty of care” before it became a television buzz phrase. Whatever transpires, you believe that the vulnerable subjects are safe in their hands.

This opening episode was no exception, featuring Liverpool FC and Scotland defender Dominic Matteo, whose near-death experience with a brain tumour drove him to find his then teenage birth mother. The other searcher, Lisa, had been hampered in discovering her origins by the distress of her adoptive father, who was now suffering from dementia. Both reunions turned out to be different, but equally magnificent. The meeting between Matteo and his mother shivered with gentle sincerity, while Lisa and her birth mother were fiercely expressive with each other: “You were my first love, and you always will be.”

There are valid question marks over a programme such as Long Lost Family: does it oversimplify a painful, complicated process that doesn’t always end in a happy ever after? However, at its best it’s about finding missing psycho-emotional jigsaw pieces; the primal need to be complete.

In Kathy Burke: Money Talks, the actor dealt with the myriad attitudes that surround money: greed, security, envy and everything in between. In the first of two parts, “Rich”, Burke, spraying profanities around like a good-humoured lawn sprinkler, hobnobbed with TikTok-ers, aristocracy and self-made, Romany-born, multimillionaire caravan site owner Alfie Best, who showed off his sprawling mansion, then peacocked off to work in a helicopter – and yet still confessed to a fear of going bankrupt. In episode two, “Poor” (both are now available on demand), Burke discussed Wayne and Waynetta Slob with Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse, visited the impoverished town of Jaywick, and railed against politicians: “They’re ruling over us, and they haven’t got a fucking scooby doo about the real world at all.” Quite.

Burke was good casting, having straddled both realities with her working-class childhood followed by her success. She also has that most cherished and elusive of TV presenting skills: she is rock-solid good company. Even so, there were moments where the material stuttered or sagged, and you wondered – would one very good and tight episode have worked better than the rather scrappy two?

Nordic Murders, part of the Walter Presents strand, returned for a second series, and it still isn’t “Nordic”. It’s German, with a soupçon of Polish, set on the island of Usedom in the Baltic sea. We can forgive it this confusion, because Nordic Murders tries so hard. Each feature-length episode includes the complex ever-unravelling main story, while also weaving in a new crime mystery.

In the first series, former prosecutor Karin Lossow, played by Katrin Sass, had just been released from jail after being imprisoned for killing her husband with her police daughter’s service gun (if you’re going to watch Nordic Murders, you must learn to keep up; there’s no slacking). As series two opened (all episodes are now available), the daughter (Lisa-Marie Potthoff) had been kidnapped by an evil biker gang who all resembled central-casting Motörhead roadies, and a new mysterious female detective (Rikke Lylloff) had arrived. Nordic Murders is a bizarre, hysterically over-plotted show (you’re no one in Usedom without a dark secret), but it’s also spirited and charming, with its moody music, dirty lagoons, tall, spindly trees and sprawling beaches in shimmering soft blues. Overlook the somewhat skew-whiff geography and enjoy the ride.

A Lake District Farm Shop (Channel 4) |
A new series looking at the family-run Tebay Services, the motorway gateway to the Lake District that’s a restaurant that’s a farm shop that’s a foodie nirvana of locally produced artisan foodstuffs.

Formula One: Drive to Survive (Netflix) |
With Silverstone next weekend, sample this spectacular, addictive docuseries on Formula One, now three series in. Featuring Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and high-octane backstage drama from Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull and more.

Paul Weller Live at the Barbican (BBC Two) | iPlayer
It’s still possible to catch Weller’s socially distanced live turn from May, performing songs from his extensive oeuvre, aided by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor-arranger Jules Buckley and featuring Boy George and Celeste. Intense and special.

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