Wednesday 14
Deep Water
9pm, STV

To a degree that’s slightly painful, ITV’s Deep Water sets out to be a British equivalent to Big Little Lies. Like the glowing and glossy HBO drama, it’s a female-led ensemble piece set in a small, faintly touristy town with a watery ambience – indeed, the setting is intended as being practically a character in its own right – where the lives of a bunch of busy women with busy modern day problems intersect and interknit as they meet at the busy gates of the school all their kids busily attend.

In execution, though, any notional similarities fall apart. Just on a surface level, the American show, with its A-list cast having a catfight wrapped in a murder mystery in the fragrant Californian sunlight, was a far richer escapist indulgence. But Big Little Lies, especially in its first series, was also more interesting in the way it slyly picked away at that surface. As it held up the lives of the uber-rich for study, it managed a balance between satire and sympathy that grew more affecting as it burrowed beneath their town’s veneer, to get to the secrets, lies and unhappiness beneath.

By contrast, the more time I spent with the characters in Deep Water, the more annoying most of them became. Based on a series of novels by Paula Daly, the six-part series is set on the shores of Lake Windermere, a setting the programme’s makers seem to be counting on doing a lot of work for them, although, really, barring a few scenes set on yachts, the action could be happening anywhere, even though they sometimes throw in a shot of water lapping the camera to remind you.

Here we meet what the ITV press notes ominously feel the need to describe as “three complex and vibrant women,” as if worried – correctly, as it turns out – that their inherent complexity and vibrancy might not be readily apparent simply by watching the show. The trio are: Lisa, a complex and vibrant dog walker with carefully messy hair and jumpers, played by Anna Friel between sighs and giggles; Roz, a complex and vibrant physiotherapist, played by Sinead Keenan; and Kate (Rosalind Eleazar), who is complexly, vibrantly rich while throwing dinner parties.

Attending one of these with her humdrum taxi driver husband, Lisa, who is possibly intended as the misfit of this complexly vibrating bunch, shags a guy in the bathroom and loses her knickers, which sets off a chain of misfortunes that Jilly Cooper or Brian Rix might have had some fun with, but nobody does here. Meanwhile, Kate’s main function is to be a little snooty, condescending and stern.

By far the most interesting of the three, both in plotting and performance, is Keenan’s Roz. Like every other woman in sight, she’s involved with a useless man: her partner is a gambling addict who has brought her and her daughter to the edge of homelessness, although he sometimes makes up for it by blowing saxophone in a soulful, puppyish way. Drowning in debt, she gets offered a horrendous way out by a groomed and creepy client who proposes to pay her for sex – an unthinkable situation she’s soon giving very serious thought to.

Keenan, as ever, is very good, and she makes Roz easily the most believable character. But it’s her misfortune to be playing this role in this show just a few weeks after Samantha Morton’s I Am Kirsty, another story about a woman forced into sex work to survive. Morton’s drama was messier, but rawer, harder and more devastating. In comparison, Deep Water sticks to the shallows.