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Bravely Stumbling 'Back To Life' on Showtime
November 10, 2019  | By David Hinckley

Showtime's new import, Back To Life, suggests again that television is hosting a modest renaissance of dramas based on the old-fashioned virtue of pluck.

Pluck was big more than a century ago when authors like Horatio Alger wrote of orphans and other economically or socially disadvantaged individuals who carved out a respectable place in the world through hard work and an optimistic force of will.

Back To Life, which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime after a well-received run earlier this year in the U.K., follows Miri Matteson (Daisy Haggard, top), who returns to her small Kent village after serving 18 years in prison for murder.

Her return is not well received unless one thinks that having "Psycho Bitch" spray-painted on your front fence could be construed as a gesture of affection.

Haggard, who created and co-wrote the six-episode show with Laura Solon, makes Miri a little puzzled and at times, a little awkward, but generally aware of the difficulties re-entry will pose.

Her parents, Caroline (Geraldine James) and Oscar (Richard Durden), seem genuinely supportive and braced against the resentment and hatred that Miri still seems to engender.

Support beyond that, however, is scarce. She is rejected for the most menial jobs, and just walking down the street can envelop her in waves of almost tangible hostility.

This feels like a situation where she would have been better off moving to India or some other place where she could start a new anonymous life. That doesn't appear to be something she could have done or wanted to do, so she's instead hoping to take a deep breath, march forward, and tough it out.

She does betray a few small optimistic hopes, which we fear will not turn out well. Like when she pops in on Dom (Jamie Michie), to whom she apparently was engaged before she was sent up the river.

Not only has Dom moved on, he has moved in a direction that no one could have foreseen and could produce a serious complication down the line.

That complication is simultaneously appalling and hilarious, which tells us why we would want to watch a story in which, frankly, all the surface elements seem sad and depressing.

For one thing, it says there are still moments when things get so overwhelming that all you can do is laugh. Laughter is a good thing.

It also says pluck still matters, and Miri has pluck. It's what has gotten Back To Life compared to the last week's Emmy comedy winner Fleabag, which also focuses on a character who refuses to be beaten even when the scoreboard says the game should be over.

Miri's daily life may look like an unbroken stream of defeats. She doesn't see it that way. She wakes up and does something. She applies for those jobs she probably won't get, takes her David Bowie posters off the wall of her room, enjoys looking at the grey British sky.

She's not a winsome little girl lost, and she doesn't get everything right. But we admire her, and as the series moves along, some of the news turns better. We start to learn some relevant new facts about her crime. The handyman next door, Billy (Adeel Akhtar), unburdened by her history, becomes a friend.

Like Miri, Back To Life has few grand aspirations. It aims to be precisely life-size, painting its pictures through careful attention to routine daily details.

Like Miri, it then becomes more. Welcome back, pluck.

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