I miss Waterloo Road so much. So you can imagine my excitement when I saw the trailers for Channel 4’s new school-based drama Ackley Bridge. It was tipped to be the next best thing, but two episodes in, I was sorely disappointed. It’s not Waterloo Road. It wishes it was but it’s not.
Even its name sounds similar. Apparently, it was originally going to be called The ABC – a suitably bland title – so I bet there was some executive decision to play on the parallels.
Waterloo Road was endearing, enduring and didn’t take itself too seriously. It was a shameless soap-style nod to the likes of Grange Hill that the whole family could sit down and enjoy. When it first started I think I had just graduated from CBBC, but hadn’t quite been drawn in by Hollyoaks. Waterloo Road with its familiar ensemble and the weekly dose of borderline ridiculous storylines was the perfect way for me to build up to grown-up TV.
I followed it right through to the bitter end, right up to when they inexplicably moved the whole school to Scotland, drunken Jane Beale was the Headmistress, and poor old Tom died. So, it meant a lot to me and it probably meant (almost) as much to everyone else drawn in by those trailers.
Clumsy clash of cultures
Set in Yorkshire, two very different schools are brought together for some vague reason and attempts to explore the challenges of integration within traditionally separate communities.
Instead of being a gripping drama, unafraid to lay bare some very pertinent issues within the microcosm of the playground, what results is a clumsy clash of cultures that is poorly executed, relying on stereotypes and petty schoolgirl problems.
Testament to this was the first episode that aired shortly after the Manchester terror attack. It originally featured a scene where a student straps a fake bomb to himself to protest the merging of the two schools. Regardless of the terrible events that happened just weeks before, it would still have been insensitive.
One thing the show is doing right is the supplementary video content it is putting out on social media to build a wider world outside the air time. Whether this is good enough to prop it up
Adil Ray, best known as Citizen Khan, is unrecognisable as wealthy school sponsor Sadiq, heading up a cast of familiar faces alongside Jo Joyner (Tanya from EastEnders).
But it is the cast of rising stars plucked straight from the Yorkshire School of Acting and nearby high schools that really steal the screen.
- It rammed a lot into the first two episodes and seemed to lay solid foundations for the key characters.
- I’m yet to work out his age… but I think he’s legal. So, Sam Retford as heartthrob Cory.
- It’s just not Waterloo Road.
The six-part series airs on Channel 4 on Wednesdays at 8pm.