Roush Review: In 'Roadkill,' Hugh Laurie Eyes a New House: 10 Downing St.
In a verbal chess game of Politics 101 in Roadkill, ambitious government minister Peter Laurence (House's dry, wry Hugh Laurie) is told, "All prime ministers are stopgaps." Not exactly what he wants to hear, until the first law of politics is explained to him: "Every politician expects to be prime minister. Without exception."
Peter is clearly no exception, as the cynical but uninspired four-part Masterpiece drama makes abundantly clear. Rising through the ranks, with an eye on the ultimate prize of 10 Downing Street, Peter considers himself a "people's politician," a confidence displayed as the series begins when he emerges triumphant from a libel trial his superiors urged him not to pursue. "High wire doesn't do it. More like Houdini," huffs his boss, conservative Prime Minister Dawn Ellison (the delicious Helen McCrory), who bristles at how Peter somehow always manages to stay one step ahead of becoming tabloid roadkill.
The mild suspense generated by playwright David Hare concerns the cluttered closet of unsurprising personal and family skeletons that threaten to bring him down. Unsatisfied mistress (Westworld's Sidse Babett Knudsen)? Check. Wronged but loyal wife (Saskia Reeves)? Sure. Spitefully rebellious daughter (Millie Brady) whose public drug use puts her on the front page? Why not.
Even so, there are a few loose ends — one personal, awaiting him in a prison his Justice department oversees; another financial, involving off-the-books dealings with deep-pocketed Americans — that could prove especially damaging. Not that Roadkill ever works up much narrative steam, leaving me wondering: Did this rare Masterpiece misfire mean to echo Succession with its insistent score of piano arpeggios? I kept wishing for more of that Emmy-winning HBO drama's bite, even when the story takes a welcome detour into dark media satire with a dogged reporter (Normal People's Sarah Greene) whose pursuit of the truth is stymied by an editor (Pip Torrens) under the thumb of an aristocratic owner who declares, "I hate unpleasantness."
Laurie, such a conniving delight in Veep, seems uncharacteristically subdued, especially during a painful scene in which his tiresome family lights into him for his many transgressions. At work, he's continually upstaged by the smug, waspish McCrory, who delights in making Peter squirm. While it seems inevitable that he'll get the last word, this house of cards plays a way too familiar hand.
Roadkill, Series Premiere, Sunday, November 1, 9/8c, PBS (check local listings at pbs.org)