Money episode one review

The BBC goes back to the 80s with this two-part adaptation of Martin Amis’ novel of the same name. But is it as compulsive as the substances its characters ingest?

In Money, Nick Frost stars as John Self, the oleaginous, overweight former ad man at the centre of a biting satire on 80s greed and excess, a two-part BBC drama based on the 1984 novel by Martin Amis.

Flying to New York to make his fortune as a film director, Self meets Fielding Goodney (ably performed by Mad Men‘s Vincent Kartheiser), a smooth-talking and slick producer who tells John to “put his dick on the table” and “dream big, win big”.

In a bizarre pitch meeting, Self proposes what he calls a “family film” called Money, which he summarises as “a father, a mother, a son, and a big bag of heroin”. With his concept given the green light, Self begins the hunt for a workable cast, leading to a series of increasingly awkward encounters with actors who are by turns arrogant and desperately insecure.

There’s a brilliantly awkward moment in which an ageing, massively egotistical actor insists on adding an explicit sex scene to Self’s film. In fact, every actor has his or her own objections to the first draft of the script. Where one demands more sex scenes, another demands fewer.

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When not trying to get his film off the ground, Self divides his time between eating junk food and frequenting sleazy strip joints, chasing unavailable women and drinking himself into a stupor. Meanwhile, an increasingly persistent mystery caller continues to pester Self for money, and the episode concludes with the implication that Self’s entire life could soon spiral out of control in the next.

Nick Frost looks the part as the greasy, dishevelled oaf squeezed into his suit, but his character is more of a caricature than a properly fleshed-out human being. Where Mary Harron’s film adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, another satire on 80s excess, succeeded in making even a monster like Patrick Bateman a fascinating anti-hero, John Self is little more than a collection of neuroses and addictions.

Nevertheless, the keen wit of Amis’ original writing still surfaces. Self’s melancholy, self-doubting internal dialogue is full of wry observations, including one memorable comment on Americans playing tennis: “When Americans say they can play tennis, they don’t mean what English people mean when they say they can play tennis. When an American says he can play tennis, he means he can play tennis.”

Visually, Money is a handsome looking production, and successfully evokes the sleaze and vacuity of the 80s with its gaudy hotel rooms and tacky bars. New York is distinctively shot using a palette of blacks and golds, while Thatcher’s Britain is a monochromatic shade of brown.

As a drama, however, the flatness of Self’s character, and the somewhat disconnected, episodic nature of its events, makes Money far less compulsive than it might have been. And while it’s possible that the pace could pick up in the concluding part, the first half of Money doesn’t end in a manner that leaves you craving for more.

Part two of Money screens on Wednesday night…

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