Bodyguard is a reminder of the agony and ecstasy of waiting

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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Richard Madden and Keely Hawes in Bodyguard

Why setting an iCal reminder for Sunday nights is just about the most fun you can have these days.

When I flew out of London to Sydney for a wedding two weeks ago, I landed in Australia to a new Prime Minister. And when I arrived back in the UK this week I was met by a country gripped with Bodyguard fever.

The most popular British television show in almost a decade, some 10 million viewers have felt the after-effects of the fever from just the first episode, characterised by racing pulses, cold sweats and a deep, deep thirst (for star Richard Madden’s PPO David-slash-Dave Budd). I staggered through London on Tuesday, half in a jet-lagged daze in search of legal stimulants and anxious that I was the only person in the entirety of the country – or at the very least, the city – yet to see Bodyguard.

So I did what any self-respecting millennial forged in the age of Netflix would do: I binge-watched the first three episodes.

There is a pleasure in bingeing, sure.

The heady rush and the quick, ebullient high and all that. Three hours of watching Madden’s battle-scarred, severely damaged police officer protect, circumvent and maybe – maybe??? What is the truth?? – undermine the calculating Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes, magnificent as ever) as she attempts to end a spate of terror attacks will do that for you.

But watching those three episodes back-to-back reminded me that there is a far greater pleasure in waiting for television. Of savouring it. Of needing a new episode so badly that you set an iCal reminder for 9pm on Sunday nights so you can watch the new episode as soon as it airs on BBC One.

Of being putty in the hands of show creators like Bodyguard’s Jed Mercurio – the man behind Hawes’ Line of Duty – as they slowly drip, drip, drip information to you at a cruel, torturously slow pace.

Richard Madden and Keely Hawes in Bodyguard

Richard Madden and Keely Hawkes in Bodyguard

Thanks to Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms of their ilk, we have become unaccustomed to waiting for our content. We like it to be brought to us, buffet style, assembled in front of us for consumption at our own leisure. If you want to plough through an entire series in one night, you can. Literally no-one is stopping you.

Afterwards, as you emerge from the binging black hole bleary-eyed and breathless, you can go online and spend as many hours as you want googling recaps, theories, viral Twitter threads, memes and as much adjacent content as you could possibly want. These days, almost anything can be spoiled.

Whereas, I came to Bodyguard cold. Before I landed back in London this week I was only vaguely aware of it. I had no idea what the show was about. I thought it might be a remake of, um, The Bodyguard, a show I wouldn’t have been entirely unhappy to watch.

I knew nothing about it, other than the fact that it starred Robb Stark and Lady Agnes Holland from Upstairs Downstairs.

There’s a reason why Bodyguard is one of the most popular British TV shows in 10 years, and it has to do with the way we’re watching it

I’ve seen three episodes of Bodyguard now – I’ve caught up, I’m back in with the cool crowd – and I still know nothing about this show. I don’t know if David-slash-Dave is in love with Julia or moments away from strangling her with his bare hands. I don’t know if Julia is up to something nefarious or if she’s navigating the annals of power with ease. I don’t know if Anne Sampson has an ulterior motive or if it’s just the superb Gina McKee being completely unreadable, as per usual. (See: The Forsyte Saga).

I don’t know who is in on what, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know what they’re in on, anyway. And who the f**k is this Richard Longcross fellow?

I am so completely in the dark about where this show is going and what it’s trying to do. And that is truly thrilling.

What is Anne Sampson up to? 

We’ve gotten so used to knowing everything about the television we watch, either because they’re adaptations of bestselling books (Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale, we’re looking at you) or historical events (The Crown, we do love you, but we know that Elizabeth and Philip aren’t going to get divorced, don’t we?), or because they’ve aired first in America before premiering here. We’ve read the think pieces and the hot takes. We’ve sought out the spoilers.

Not so with Bodyguard. This show harks back to how we used to consume our television, together, as soon as it aired because we had spent the intervening seven days desperately waiting for the next episode. Shows like Lost, 24, Desperate Housewives and Breaking Bad

This is television as an event: A nation sitting down at the same time – or mostly at the same time, disregarding the three or so million who watched Bodyguard on iPlayer over the Bank Holiday weekend – to watch the same episode, the same twists and turns, see the same shock reveals and yell the same maddening questions at our television screens in unison before going to work on a Monday, coffee in hand, and turning to your colleague next to you to demand: “Did you see last night’s episode of Bodyguard?”

Well, did you? And what did you think?

Bodyguard is on BBC iPlayer and continues this Sunday at 9pm on BBC One.

Images: BBC