The Ties that Bind

'The Brief: Complete Collection'

by J.M. Suarez

28 February 2012

The cast is certainly engaging, Alan Davies in particular, but unfortunately, it's not enough to carry the series.
cover art

The Brief: Complete Collection

US DVD: 28 Feb 2012

A British series set in a barrister’s office, The Brief follows Henry Farmer (Alan Davies) in both his professional and personal life. As he is part of a larger group of barristers, Henry also regularly interacts with his colleagues as they simultaneously butt heads and help each other with their caseloads.

Henry’s challenges in juggling his professional life with his personal life are especially difficult to balance as he has a gambling problem. Often in financial crisis, Henry relies on getting as many cases as he can in order to pay off his debts. By nature of the people he is indebted to, he is often placed in compromising situations with unsavory characters who are trying to collect on debts, any way they can. He is propositioned by these characters to fix cases in order to forgive these debts, but Henry’s unwillingness to consider such options sets him up as the good guy, albeit a flawed one, with a moral code.

One of the series’ problems stems from this character approach for Henry. In attempting to make him a layered character, The Brief is not always successful in offering a complete picture. There are tonal shifts throughout the series that come across as jarring and awkward, as serious cases are combined with a more light touch regarding Henry’s gambling problem. As grave as some of the cases are, Henry’s personal problems, although also serious, are treated as almost comic relief in the series. While the series is trying to show how chaotic Henry’s life is, it tends to be an odd choice and instead makes for an unfocused overall picture.

Henry’s relationships with his colleagues vary from the friendly to the hostile with his ally, Ray (Christopher Fulford); the young protégé, Paul (Steven Alvey); and his coworker and friend, Maureen (Linda Bassett). His most complicated relationship is with fellow barrister, Cleo (Cherie Lunghi), as they have a back and forth dynamic that has them defending clients against each other one episode and confiding personal problems another. She’s as ambitious as he is scattered and the more interesting moments in the series are usually centered on their interactions.

Henry’s romantic life is as complicated as the rest of his life. In the first season, he is having an affair with Polly (Zara Turner), the wife of a powerful politician. The three of them have an understanding about the relationship, a potentially engaging storyline filled with messy ramifications, it’s difficult to get really invested in this part of the story. They clearly have a long history, but without more background, it’s just one more complication in Henry’s life and nothing more intriguing than that.

The second season introduces a new, young colleague in Millie (Camilla Power). She’s just starting out and Henry helps her at the office, all the while leading to speculation that they may be romantically involved. As Henry’s life is never without some turmoil that spills from one art of his life into the other, Millie’s role as colleague and friend is no different. However, the series is never able to establish much in the way of Henry’s personal life in the second season. 

While The Brief also tries to add more to Henry’s life by including a son from his previous marriage, and an overbearing and overprotective ex-wife, again, it’s not enough to bring more dimension to his character. In fact, Henry’s son plays a very small role in the second season, and is usually only used as yet another factor in Henry’s disorderly life.

The fact that each season is only four episodes should also be taken into consideration in explaining how challenging it can be to set up so much story and background, especially with an ensemble cast. In the end, the characters and relationships don’t come together enough to fully involve the viewer. 

The cast is certainly engaging, Davies in particular. He’s easy to root for in spite of his problems. He’s principled and easy going, but unfortunately, it’s not enough to carry the series, particularly as the rest of the characters are usually relegated to the sidelines. The cases are interesting, but rarely fully compelling. Similarly, Henry is just not fleshed out enough to create enough audience investment.   

The DVD release includes no bonus features.

The Brief: Complete Collection


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