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The Politicians in 'Roadkill,' Starring Hugh Laurie, Shouldn't be a Surprise
November 1, 2020  | By David Hinckley

Hugh Laurie further distances himself from his comic past with Roadkill, a tangled British political drama that's been picked up here by PBS.

Roadkill launches Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on PBS's Masterpiece (check local listings), which has long provided a home for quality Brit productions.

Roadkill reflects Masterpiece's recent shift away from visually stunning period dramas toward contemporary crime and mystery.

Laurie plays Peter Laurence, an ambitious and successful British politician. He's a Conservative who presents himself as "open-minded," a man who understands the people because he's one of them even if someday he hopes to rule them.

We gradually realize it's a good thing that Laurence's behavior doesn't reflect the behavior of all those other people because his personal life is tangled and often less than admirable.

His public façade, however, has enabled him to rise to a post in the cabinet of Prime Minister Dawn Ellison (Helen McCrory).

As we join the story, Laurence has just won a libel suit against a British newspaper that claimed he was using his office for personal gain. The prime minister and the Conservative party aren't particularly happy that he filed the suit, feeling it makes more political sense to keep a stiff upper lip and shrug these things off. But Laurence saw himself striking a blow against media lies, and he doesn't apologize even as he assures Ellison he won't do it again.

On the other side of the libel suit story we see Charmian Pepper (Sarah Greene), the reporter who remains convinced Laurence did exactly what she wrote.

Her editor, not surprisingly, now sees the story primarily as a major defeat. So the verdict causes tension at Pepper's job and upheaval that she really doesn't need in her own ragged personal life.

Nor is the bloodied but unbowed Pepper the only obstacle in the path Laurence hopes will one day deliver him to 10 Downing Street.

For starters, his life is full of people, and that always opens the possibility for loose ends and interactions that can redirect his game plan.

Laurence, like Ellison, has an assistant who is like a third arm, essential to his work and in on every machination and secret of his complicated world.

For Laurence, that's Duncan Knock (Iain De Caestecker). For Ellison it's Julia Blythe (Olivia Vinall). Both seemingly work 24/7 yet both, we learn, manage to squeeze in a few extracurricular moments they do not always share with their bosses.

Laurence's immediate situation is further complicated by the sudden appearance of a woman who claims to have a link to his past, a link that, through a coincidental confluence of odd circumstances, could affect his political ascent.

So he feels under siege from several directions, and much of the drama in Roadkill revolves around his strategy of plowing forward anyhow, relying on a combination of suave charm and brute force to clear his path.

For the viewer, this sends Roadkill down the middle of the road between political drama and high-level soap opera.

While Laurie remains the tent-pole in both those areas, the four-episode series gradually brings in a cast of dozens, several with stories of their own. That includes Laurence's wife, Helen (Saskia Reeves), whom most viewers will not end up envying.

Roadkill is nice-looking and gets consistently strong performances from a veteran cast that, in some ways, feels like a British repertory company.

Laurie's Laurence tilts more toward the perpetual annoyance of Gregory House than the deadpan comedy of Ryan Clark, the character we saw him playing earlier this year in Avenue 5.

Roadkill itself comes across as an enjoyable political drama that probably won't restore our faith in the system, but confirms much of what we already suspected about human nature.

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