When you look back at the outstanding drama the BBC have produced so far this year, they all have one thing in common.
Whether it’s Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley, Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie in The Night Manager or Keeley Hawes in Line Of Duty, they all featured well established talent who bosses knew would draw in a large audience.
There is one exception though, and that’s Thirteen, a BBC Three drama which was also shown on BBC Two. Whilst lead actress Jodie Comer was in Doctor Foster, she was by no means a household name and the writer Marnie Dickens only had five episodes of Hollyoaks, one episode of Ripper Street and one episode of The Musketeers to her name.
It’s this big leap of faith in new talent that made BBC Three stand out, and part of the reason many were so up in arms when it moved online. Russell Tovey, Sheridan Smith and James Corden all owe their successful careers to an early start on BBC Three.
The same unfortunately can’t be said for BBC One, very few actors start out on BBC One, after all, that’s what BBC Three was for.
But this week, BBC One appear to have taken a leaf out of BBC Three’s book as New Blood, a bold seven-part investigative drama stars two newcomers as its main leads, Mark Strepan and Ben Tavassoli.
Strepan and Tavassoli play Stefan and Rash, two junior investigators. Stefan for the Serious Fraud Office and Rash for the Police.
They are opposites in almost every way. But they do share the same frustrations with life. They’re both underpaid, unappreciated and undermined. Lumbered with huge university loans, they can’t afford to buy a house and have little or no job security.
The two are brought together by two seemingly unrelated cases as New Blood sets out to show a unique side of modern London through the eyes of two outsiders. They come together against a new breed of criminal, the uber-rich and powerful corporations, individuals and governments who hide behind legitimate facades.
Stefan Kowalski (played by Strepan) was born in Poland, but is a British Citizen having moved to England when he was eight.
Spontaneous, hot-headed and not sure which world he belongs to, Stefan left university when his parents went back to Poland as he couldn’t afford to finish his course, and now at the age of 26 lives with a gang of fellow-Poles.
His life changed when one of his lecturers, Marcus Johnson, who had recently joined the Serious Fraud Office, came looking for him and offered him a job.
Stefan isn’t the only one struggling to find a place of his own to live. Rash, full name Arrash Sayyad (played by Ben Tavassoli), grew up in a close family environment and still lives with his mum and sister, but with challenging circumstances.
Born and brought up in London, he is intelligent, focused, driven. His family fled Iran following the revolution and the death of his father, a police officer. They were granted refugee status in the UK and Rash joined the police with the ambition of becoming a police detective. But things haven’t gone well.
He now finds himself aged twenty-six, struggling to secure a coveted Trainee Detective Constable position.
Both Mark Strepan and Ben Tavassoli really impressed me in the three episodes I watched, and just by watching New Blood you will never guess that this is the first time either of them have played a primetime lead.
In fact, they’ve hardly been on television before, you might recognise Strepan from the second series of Channel 4’s The Mill or Tavassoli from No Offence, but their strong performances are of the calibre you’d expect from actors with years of experience.
New Blood is a detective show with a difference. It was refreshing to see such a young cast on BBC One, as well as such a diverse cast that accurately represented life in contemporary London, proving that television is capable of representing what life is actually like in Britain today, so it’s a wonder why it doesn’t do it more often.
There’s some great writing behind New Blood of course. Whilst the two main leads may be newcomers, the writer is anything but. Anthony Horowitz, best-known for series such as Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Midsomer Murders and of course Foyle’s War, has created a series which is very different from anything he’s done before on television.
However if you’re more familiar with Horowitz’s novels, then New Blood is exactly the type of series you’d expect him to make. It’s aimed at a young audience much like his most popular Alex Rider novels, all about a young boy who at the age of fourteen has become a spy, working as a member of MI6.
The series also features some more established talent, such as Mark Addy as DS Derek Sands, Anna Chancellor as Eleanor Davies and Kimberley Nixon as Stefan’s colleague Alison White.