If I were on a cruise ship, as a guest or a staff member, I would pray for death. Which draws the sting of Wreck (BBC Three) a little for me – a slasher-horror-comedy-thriller set on a cruise ship on which people are bloodily murdered for reasons as yet unknown. You lucky budgies, a part of me cannot help but think. It’s a little like when I watched Papillon, quite baffled because I didn’t understand that solitary confinement was supposed to be a punishment.
The first person we meet on the good ship Sacramentum is Pippa (Jodie Tyack). She breaks up with her boyfriend Danny (Jack Rowan) and is then pursued across the decks and down the corridors by a hooded duck mascot with a knife. No one in the cast is old enough to understand the reference, but, dear slightly older readers, it looks like an armed, yellow Orville. You will have nightmares. Eventually, armed Orville has Pippa trapped, which is when she sticks two fingers up at her plush pursuer, says: “You can’t have me,” and tips herself backwards over the side. Roll credits!
Return from credits! New boy Cormac (Oscar Kennedy) is being shown the ropes – and a pitch-perfect corporate video – along with the rest of the latest intake (or “crotch droppings” as their manager-sergeant Karen, played by Harriet Webb, refers to them) and taught how to meet the ever-evolving needs of guests with alacrity and without complaint. “Action stations,” Karen says at the end of the tour. “No doubt you will all disappoint me.”
Cormac, it is soon revealed, is not Cormac, but Jamie. He bought Cormac’s identity from him so that he could infiltrate the ship’s staff because Jamie is Pippa’s brother and doesn’t believe the cruise company’s claim that she killed herself. Unfortunately, the real Cormac (Peter Claffey) has stowed away and is hiding in Cormac/Jamie’s cabin – I’m going to call Cormac/Jamie Jamie from now on – so that he can keep tabs on Rosie, his ex-girlfriend and the entertainment troupe’s Cher tribute act.
There also appears to be some sort of drug dealing thing going on within and probably beyond the entertainment troupe, so that may be something we want to keep an eye on, what with all the motivation for murder that could cause. Various forms of interpersonal relations abound – often carried out against the toilet roll stockpiles in the store cupboard – and will doubtless carry their own plot complications. Sweet Olly (Anthony Rickman) – sweet-seeming Olly? A potential love interest, either way – appears at Jamie’s side one day as he is taking a quiet moment to look out over the sea and ponder the life choices that led to him working as a serf and secret murder police. He warns Jamie that the world of the ship is deeply tribal and that he should leave now or he never will. “I’ve been here 84 years.” Mean Girl Sofia (Alice Nokes) also needs watching for all sorts of reasons.
Jamie forms a comrades-in-adversity friendship with fellow new recruit Vivian (Thaddea Graham, full of quiet confidence and charisma). They are both gay, haven’t told their families where they are (“I thought running off to be a sailor was the gayest option,” says Vivian, who is escaping her father’s homophobia and disappointment) and are finding life on the open waves even less congenial than expected, particularly once the hard partying among staff begins.
Jamie’s investigations into what he suspects is Pippa’s murder are interspersed with an elaborate hazing ritual (inadvertently made more elaborate by Jamie not realising that he only had to kiss the fish), freezer-based pranks and other assorted jump scares, and an altercation with Cormac that ends with him slumped unconscious in the cabin. The opening episode ends with a proper horror scene, in which Orville reappears and smashes a victim in the face with a barbell before stabbing him to death and dragging him behind one of the corridor’s fake walls. Dum-dum-daaaah!
It’s all fine. Wreck has got charm, it’s got a little bit of wit, it’s got youthful exuberance and energy, and even if it never develops much more than that (only one episode was available for review at time of writing), it will justify its place in the schedules. If it falls apart hereafter – well, we’ll just have to chalk that up to experience. I hope there will be more of Karen (“GTF if you think this is going to be a holiday”) and I will take as much of Vivian’s cold cynicism and warm camaraderie with Jamie as you can shovel at me. It’s fun, perhaps, rather than notably funny but sometimes that’s enough. Any port in the ongoing storm, you know.