Archives for category: crime

As I have mentioned before, I very rarely give up on something after one episode. The merest hint that it could get better or be worth investing in and I’m there. Often I am proven right. Sometimes though I am tested. The first episode does enough to put me off entirely and I never go back or get close to.

The Alienist very much pushed me to the limit of what I was willing to go back to. It had several off putting elements, including open misogyny and extreme violence. Yes, both were central to the plot, but it was still a very comfortable watch.

What challenged me the most was the gore. I don’t handle gore well and find subtle hints at it serve a much better function and make a more interesting narrative then serving it up on a plate. The desecrated corpse of a child was bad enough, but for me it was the man banging is head against the wall, blood pouring down his face and syphilis marks all over him that was the hardest watch. It was making me, in northern English parlance, ‘gip’.

I didn’t find any of the characters, even the good guys, likeable either. So the omens were not good for me carrying on.

Yet I did, because part of me, despite my disgust, wanted to see the crime solved. And the second episode was significantly better. Firstly, the gore, although still present, was in smaller doses. Also, I began to warm to Dakota Fanning’s secretary character and even warmed a little to Luke Evans, although Daniel Bruhl is still annoying me. The Jewish brothers are also getting more of a role, and like Fanning, are providing a bit of warmth to an otherwise cold story.

The plot of police corruption and male prostitutes is also serving a proper function now rather than just acting to shock. All in all, it has turned a corner. Of course, it can no doubt turn back again, but let’s hope it doesn’t.

Even so, this isn’t for the faint hearted. There is no attempt at humour, even dark humour, bar the odd aside. It is uncompromising in what it does and can border on the unpleasant.

My advice – have something sunny and happy in your back pocket for when you are done. I have season 2 of Nailed It! ready to go as soon as I am done with it, and also watching the last season of The Middle. After The Alienist, you need that dose of loveliness. It probably wasn’t what the writers intended, but it is the result.

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Recent events have meant that I had a gap in my Netflix viewing schedule. House of Cards was delayed from its spring release following the scandal surrounding Kevin Spacey, meaning my traditional bridge that lasts me until Orange is the New Black was missing.

After a bit of scrolling around I came across Unforgotten, a crime drama that I had wanted to dip into when it was on ITV but never got the chance. So I took the opportunity to make up for lost time, and I am very glad I did.

The shows revolves around a cold case from forty years ago when the remains of a mixed-race teenager who was reported missing are found. The detectives then focus on four key suspects, a former gangster turned businessman, a reformed far-right activist, a bookkeeper with a history of violent assault and a vicar with a dodgy relationship history. Everyone has motive and the depth of their connections to the victim are slowly unfurled.

What I love is that the story isn’t rushed. There are no adrenaline pumping scenes, manic car chases or the like – it is all about slowly building a case through old-fashioned detection. For example, the interviewing of connections to the suspects, tracing pay phone records, the sort of stuff so many crime dramas do away with to make space for a torture scene.

Also, Unforgotten cleverly dodges another pet peeve of the complicated home life of the copper. Yes, Nicola Walker’s DI character has one, but it is subtle. A close but troubled bond with her father and a mother who hangs like a cloud over them both through her absence. It doesn’t detract from the main story, instead it merely rounds out a character.

It can be a bleak watch – there are suicide references and the constant feeling that no one is truly good can wear you down. The fact that the person most hit hard by the opening of the investigation on a personal level is the one who has most turned their back on their wicked former selves raises the question of even if the right person is convicted of this crime and the mother of the victim given some peace, is it truly justice if people have paid their debt in some other way.

The only real fault is that it does slip into one cliché. Private Eye recently mocked the crime drama trope of everyone who is suspicious staring out into the sunset, and this show practically thrives on it. Once you have spotted it as a marker it almost becomes comical, which is obviously not the intention.

That aside, it is still brilliant. It’s clever too. Fortunately, the second series is being repeated on Sunday nights, so I can dive straight in. What I use to fill my Netflix void though is anybody’s guess.

There are moments when a show does so well people become desperate to copy its success. Broadchurch was brilliant TV, a tense crime drama about the death of a child that reverberated around a small community and exposed all its cracks. While not completely original, it was at least so well done it didn’t matter.

Netflix is now in on the act with its crime drama Safe, written by Harlan Coben. It centres on the disappearance of a teenage girl from an exclusive gated community and the death of her boyfriend. There are also a million different subplots, including a teacher accused of impropriety and the girl’s father rebuilding his life after his wife’s death, which will all presumably tie in somewhere.

Safe at times feels like a rather odd fish. On the one hand it wants to be gritty – it is, after all, about a missing child – with character’s heroically charging around council estates for drug dealers. Yet its main setting of this high-end community means it can’t help having a Desperate Housewives varnish on it.

This is also seen in some of its more ridiculous twists, not least when the family who are the viewers’ prime suspects border on the tragi-comic in the some of the scenes where they try to cover their tracks. Having said that, I have a high tolerance of, and even a bit of love for, such daftness. If anything, I wish the show was a bit more comfortable with that aspect of the plot.

Safe was also clearly designed for binging – characters briefly appear in an episode and then reappear in a later one with minimal context, suggesting that the viewer should only have seen them a few hours previously as opposed to days. For those of us that don’t binge, this becomes a test of memory.

Neither the odd genre fit nor the need to binge watch are insurmountable. What could be for some viewers is the return of my pet hate – British characters made by an American production team which means everyone must be Cockney or posh. This despite filming being in Cheshire, Manchester and Liverpool. To top it off, Michael C. Hall appears to have to gone to ‘speak with a mouth full of marbles’ school of learning an English accent. Every sentence sounds over-enunciated and drawn out.

But I’m invested now. There are enough decent plot twists to keep me going back as I reach the halfway point. This isn’t going to be the next big watercooler conversation, but it will titillate those who take the time to watch. All will rest on the ending though. Failure to provide the best one it can, and Broadchurch will be able to sleep easy atop the crime drama throne.

I have spoken about How to Get Away with Murder before. My problems with its unsympathetic lead cast, being style over substance etc. It is far from my favourite thing to watch. So why do I put myself through it? Because I want to see things through.

To a certain degree, this persistence is now paying off. I am currently reaching the climax of season 3, which has had a strong second half. This has been aided by allowing us into Annalise Keating’s hinterland, particularly the loss of her own child due to crossing the dangerous Mahoney’s. It also helps that Keating’s back is well and truly against the wall, with manufactured murder charges against her.

I have done some flip reversals on the cast as well. Asher Millstone is still an irritating frat boy, but one who is proving to be surprisingly well intentioned and loyal to those he cares for. Likewise, Michaela Pratt’s over-driven streak has been tempered by her discovering an empathy for others that is stretching beyond that needed for self-preservation.

On the other side, Connor Walsh, whose gallows humour I previously liked, is increasingly dislikeable. I am frankly bored of him toying with the naïve Oliver and treating him like a plaything and his scowling in every scene is increasingly at odds with the personal growth we have seen in the surrounding cast.

The plot also seems to have upped its game slightly. It is as daft and OTT as ever, yet I find myself caring more about the end result. For once, I find myself wanting Annalise wanting to win, not for the sake of others, but for her. Perhaps this is because for once the other side is more morally questionable then her. Or maybe, as I said, all those vulnerabilities she has kept hidden have finally broken through. It is more admirable to see her as a fighter when you realise how many battles she has thought before.

I do slightly miss case of the week. I find law interpretation fascinating and the chess games that go on in the courtroom. Hopefully when I get to see season 4 finally we will return to that, albeit with

One way of keeping a show fresh is by mixing up the central casting every now and then. This is often more of an essential for American TV shows, with their long seasons of 20+ episodes and dream of making the magical 100th episode. Killing your darlings is a shortcut to making things exciting and opening new avenues.

It is less a feature of British TV, with Doctor Who a notable exception. New Doctors and companions allow for new interpretations of the individual’s character as well as their relationship with others. One season it may be quasi-romantic, another parental, yet another a best buds.

Death In Paradise has also had to cope with line-up changes over the years. The excuse given is, that although six months of filming in the Caribbean is a delight, it is also a drain on the star’s time to spend with their family.

Again, each lead character has given us different readings of how their detective finds life on Saint Marie. Ben Miller played his as an uptight fish out of water, incredibly methodical but emotionally closed off. Kris Marshall made his almost like and excitable puppy embracing a new world, with a more scattergun approach to match. Newest lead man Ardal O’Hanlon has gone down a different track, playing the detecting as laid back and exuding bon homie to the point of almost pretending to be slightly dim witted.

The question is whether a viewer can take to each one equally. A few purists miss the fastidiousness of Miller. Others saw Marshall, so far the longest serving, as the most natural fit. Few seem to have warmed to O’Hanlon so far. That could be time issue, but personally, I am amongst those who are struggling with him.

For me, it is the pernickety detail of his rhythm of speech. The way he speaks sounds very forced in my opinion, as if he hasn’t quite memorised his lines and someone off camera is holding them up for him. I also feel his more ‘comedy’ moments feel disingenuous, but then again this has always been my issue with the show. I’m not sure how even in a ‘cosy crime’ setting you can have a pratfall immediately following a revelation about someone killing someone else.

But what brings you back is the mysteries themselves. I’m a sucker for a locked-room story, and Death In Paradise does them brilliantly. Sometimes you may guess the result, but not often, and if you can, may I suggest watching something more rigorous and allowing the rest of us an hour to ourselves?

Of course, a lot will rest on how much we can all adjust to O’Hanlon. Even in this show a lot rests on the leading man. The sands of time may allow us to accept him. If not, well, it’s not like a sudden recasting is unheard of on this show. Perhaps it is one of the most brutal programmes on TV after all.

Last week I discussed briefly how British crime drama is either gory and horrific or cosy. Personally, I veer towards the latter, purely because I feel there is enough to give you nightmares out there without inviting fictional ones. That’s not to say the former are bad, I’m sure many are brilliant, but I’m always curious as to what drives people to want to watch them.

Cosy has its problems as well though. Some of these are neatly exposed in The Coroner. The programme revolves around a solicitor-turned-coroner who has returned to her birthplace in a small town in Devon. Here, she investigates the cause of death. Except she actively intervenes in the cases, much to the polite frustration of her ex-boyfriend and now local detective, often pushing him to investigate accidents as murder etc. She even interviews suspects herself.

Here lies the first problem – anyone with a good knowledge of the law would splutter at the procedures being broken. I don’t have this knowledge, but even I eye roll at some of her actions. The problem is, as a coroner, she isn’t totally an amateur sleuth either like, say Father Brown or Jessica Fletcher. She does hold a professional capacity, but chooses to overstep it.

The second problem is the tone. Take one episode where an investigation into the murder of a reformed ex-convict turns into an investigation into people smuggling. There was actually something quite deep here to be said about the immigration system and the rights and wrongs of who we let in. Yet the whole thing was thrown off-balance by a sub-plot of the local community nicking cargo from a ship that ran aground, with the coroner’s own mother stealing a marble statue and a local shop owner, who actually had a secretly harrowing role to play, brazenly microwaving a pasty for the detective in some stolen goods.

Of course, there is arguments against these problems. Firstly, it is a daytime show. The people tuning in at that time aren’t wanting high-pressure interviews or challenging social themes. They want a fairly standard formula – obvious baddie we meet at the start doesn’t commit the crime but isn’t rewarded either, while a secret, more evil villain is found guilty. Obviously there are tweaks – sometimes the death is an accident – but the wheel isn’t being reinvented.

Secondly, there is light and darkness in real life. Displaying the charming oddities of a small town doesn’t necessarily detract from some of the bad stuff that happens there. If anything, it is reassuring that, unlike in Broadchurch, we can have a bad thing happen in a tiny community and it not destroy everything.

Because that is the function that cosy crime serves: comfort. The reassurance that the justice system works, that most people are essentially good, that communities can smile at the darkest times. This genre will never be the darling of the critics, but perhaps its enduring popularity is that people will always want to see simple black and white scenarios. At a time when there seems to be ever more shades of grey, maybe that is a good thing.tth

Scandi-noir has a lot to answer for, not least the plethora of pale imitations that it generates. Ditto Broadchurch, with its perfect representation of how a horrific crime can disrupt a small town. Combining these two sources is The Loch. It has the macabre deaths of Scandinavia and its dramatic but gloomy scenery with the small community of people with secrets of Broadchurch. Tartan noir mixed with McBroadchurch if you will.

We have the murder of a piano teacher, and now a local teenage tearaway, both dispatched slightly horrifically. Everyone has a reason to look suspicious, including the paedophile doctor and the ex-con living under a new name. A top DCI from the big city (Siobhan Finneran) is shipped in, upsetting local cops and bringing along with her a ‘celebrity forensic psychologist’. Oh, and there’s a man tied to the bottom of the loch that nobody has spotted yet.

It is as barking mad as it sounds. There’s the man being kept in a drugged coma by his mother, locals looking shifty at each other and random wolves popping up all over the place. It is as if the writers were given free rein to do whatever they like, but when it came to filming the budget kicked in and tripping over into the truly surreal Twin Peaks style was put on hold.

Nevertheless, despite (or maybe because of) its ludicrousness it is actually quite enjoyable. With nobody remotely acting guilt free we have a whole village of suspects, although if it is the local sergeant’s husband I will scream in despair. Once you acclimatise to it, the oddness becomes intriguing rather than distracting.

Of course, for me the making and breaking of crime drama is in how it handles the procedural stuff. This is where The Loch falls sadly short. The detectives seem to just barrel along, doing what the hell they like. If this ever makes it to court, the defence will have a field day with procedural errors. The whole case will collapse in the space of an afternoon. It didn’t have to be this way: Broadchurch, Line of Duty and even Scott & Bailey are proof you can talk procedure and keep the drama.

But maybe that’s the point – procedural dramas are already being done so well, why copy? Hang the technicals, forget the rules, and don’t even consider the paperwork. The eccentricities will be a distraction from all this.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to hear a conversation about forms, or an interview of a suspect done with all the quiet suspense of the show’s rivals. It’s what a lot of us like. You don’t need to dial back the odd, just turn up the real.