Archives for category: crime

This is my second attempt at writing this post. The first came to an abrupt end when my other laptop decided to freeze the mouse pad because it wanted to install an update and I lost everything in the reboot. So apologies if this post is tetchier than normal. Although to be fair, my judgement hasn’t changed on the programme I’m reviewing.

Year of the Rabbit is an historical sitcom that follows the exploits of Inspector Rabbit. He is assisted by nice-but-dim posh boy Strauss and wannabe first female copper Mabel. The format generally follows a daft crime of the week that vaguely satirises Victorian culture (and to a lesser extent ours) with a background plot of a shadowy feminist organisation.

Let’s start with the weaknesses. Or rather, weakness that is repeated throughout. It is frankly far too heavy handed in its delivery and character building. Northern chief constable Wisbeach comes out with trite sayings. Strauss’s naivety/stupidity is dull, both in its boringness and bluntness. The jokes about Mabel wanting to be a woman copper and then turning out to be the best detective on the team might as well have massive arrows pointing to them. It is all so overdone, if it was a steak it would come out of the kitchen as a piece of charcoal.

There are bright spots. Matt Berry is good as Rabbit, even if his Cockney mannerisms are as overplayed as everything else. There is at least the balance of a streak of eccentricity in him that allows the unexpected to be played out. This ability to surprise the audience is, after all, the source of the best comedy. Having said that, the fact the best line of the opening episode was his explanation for losing an eyebrow (‘the dog chewed it off last year’) is a good marker for how weak the rest of the jokes are.

The other is Keeley Hawes, although is tends to be a bright spot in everything. As shadowy gang leader Lydia out to get Rabbit she is showing a delicious streak of evil. Best of all, she is actually showing how to underplay something and let the lines speak for themselves. Her plotline is one of the few things keeping me gripped.

This show could have been great if the writing was allowed to be more subtle and the performances likewise. As it is, it feels like a wall of noise and stereotypes. Overall, a wasted opportunity.

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One of the biggest frustrations with British TV is that because it doesn’t work on a seasonal basis, the next series of episodes can come out whenever. You can easily find yourself waiting a couple of years for the next batch of episodes, regardless of the intensity of the cliffhanger.

The flip side to this is that it means what is made is done so with patience and love. It allows the writer to only send the show out when it is ready and become a gem polished as close to perfection it can be. It also creates a feeling of event TV, which is becoming increasingly rare in this era of streaming.

Line of Duty has become such an event. We are now two years on from the conclusion of the last series, yet people still flock to it. And it’s no surprise that they do. No other drama on TV can compete with twists and turns, throwing the viewer off guard. It has almost become a game working out what is being told to you straight and what is subterfuge (clue: almost everything at the moment).

One of the central mysteries is the identity of H, the kingpin of bent coppers that are aiding OCGs with their crimes. All the fingers are pointing at Hastings, our previously undoubtable Superintendent. But it is never that simple in the world of AC-12, unless this time it is. What bigger twist than to make its biggest reveal actually the most straightforward and use the paranoia of our own minds to doubt it?

My one gripe with this series is that so much focus is being placed on the UCO and the OCG and very little on bent coppers is that we are missing the beautiful interview scenes. The slow setting of the traps and the surprise table turns are missing or downplayed. Most importantly, where is all the paperwork? I mean, seriously, everyone knows we watch it for the acronyms and the evidence files and not for the explosions or gunfights!

That aside, it is still one of the best shows out there. It is fascinating watching the relationship between our central trio become tested as they begin to doubt each other. Also, it is refreshing to see Vicky McClure, previously the department skivvy, rise up through the ranks and become the de facto second-in-command.

There were initially rumours that the show would wrap up at the sixth series, but now it is potentially heading for a seventh. I hope it doesn’t become over milked. If the storylines fit six series, make it six. If it does work for a seventh, go ahead, but don’t ruin what has gone before. Event TV stops being so when the quality dips. That will be the case no matter what paperwork is done.

Politics seems to be everywhere at the moment, impacting every genre of TV show going. You don’t have to be watching something that is specifically a political drama or thriller to see it, albeit with varying degrees of subtlety. From the boom in satire to the political sub-plots of otherwise fairly standard dramas, it is hard to miss.

Those dramas concerning the public services are particularly easy to insert political messages into. They are, after all, on the frontline when it comes to governmental decisions being taken. The impact of austerity in on the public’s health or ability to be educated is shown, as is the impact of cuts on the services themselves.

Even No Offence, a cop drama that prides itself on being different, is not immune. This third series focuses on the rise of a new far-right group that is targeting a mayoral election, deliberately whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment. It’s not a new plot, but has a decent spin on it. The mixture of dark humour and frantic pace that have categorised previous series are still here, which keeps the whole thing feeling fresh. Even if we also have the tried and tested device of an undercover cop hidden in the organisation.

It also goes a little deeper, exploring of these predominately working class organisations are funded by well-off benefactors with their own motives. In this case, a private security firm run by a middle-class racist (yes, they do exist) trying to expose the lack of funding for the police so they can claim a contract patrolling the streets.

What is most shocking is that none of this feels unrealistic. The current state of things politically suggests we are only a step away from such a situation where the highest bidder, regardless of moral compass, patrols our streets, dishes out healthcare and controls education.

This show is still one of my favourites. As I have already mentioned, the humour and pace mean you can’t breathe until the end, but when you do, what’s happened hits you at full force. Joanna Scanlan and Paul Ritter remain utterly brilliant, even if the latter gets far too few lines. In fact, the whole ensemble works in way that must make other shows jealous.

It is hard to be original, but this show, even when using old plots, seems to manage it. I hope we get a few more series at least. It would feel so dull without it.

Whilst I love a good crime drama, I’m often slower at getting into true crime. Maybe this is because it has a bad reputation, in that it is all about sensationalising the blood ‘n’ guts of horrific murders. This is not interesting to me. Nor is trying to analyse a serial killer. I find gore a cheap thrill and armchair psychology dangerous yet dull.

What I do like is procedures. My favourite crime dramas thrive on this. Scott & Bailey was all about the slow drip of the interviews where the suspect is slowly broken down. Unforgotten sees the careful, meticulous piecing together of the evidence to tell a story. Line of Duty is, for me, at its best when Hastings is doing the admin around an investigation rather than trying to be a thriller.

One true crime series that has tapped into this is The Prosecutors, which follows the CPS over two complex cases. The first was a gang operation smuggling drugs into prisons across the country through drones. The second looked at the first attempted prosecution under the Modern Slavery Act. Both cases were followed start to finish, from the CPS issuing its initial advice to police, right through to trial.

Anybody fascinated by the legal process will love this. You see how many important decisions need to be made and how the wrong one can cost you a conviction. Do you put on the stand an unreliable witness with damning evidence? Do you reduce charges on one individual in the hope that they can give you the information you need to break the others?

Oh and the paperwork! Anybody who loves to file a report, especially one with sub-sections of sub-sections, will find much to be delighted in working for the CPS. This isn’t some wham-bam job. No, you have to give up your life to make a conviction stick. You can spend two years from initial report to trial, and find the whole thing rests on how much a jury believes a mentally damaged young girl or some shaky drone footage.

The people are brilliant too. A personal favourite of mine is the lead barrister from the slavery case, who moved seamlessly from stridently confident as the evidence came together to exasperated when the police lost their best witness, before finally reaching jubilant at the end. There was a real moment as well when, looking slightly broken and numb, she recounted the testimony of one of the victims: ‘she did what she was told because she was conditioned to believe she didn’t matter’. It was one of those ‘punch to the guts’ moments, where you realise that how cruel the criminals were.

I wish there was a longer series, as this is the gripping kind of TV I love. There’s no police chases or dramatics, just a group of people doggedly doing their job. I hope it is back soon.

When The Bletchley Circle was axed a few years ago, my reaction was an ‘oh well’. I had enjoyed it as a mild diversion but it had never been amazing. It was a serviceable crime series, not quite dark enough to fall into one category, not as fluffy as it needed to be to fall in the other. But still, it was good enough for what it needed to be.

So I’m not quite sure who the people were who clamoured over its return to such an extent we now have The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco. Yet it was on at a time where nothing clashed, so I watched it.

Essentially the plot is that Jean and Millie, two of the original circle, fly out across the pond to catch a serial killer who is murdering victims in the same manner as a wartime colleague was killed. They recruit two American codebreakers to help them, as they know the city.

It is all faintly ridiculous and a lot of the dialogue becomes repetitive. There are constant reminders of the fact they are out for justice for the original victim and the constant hammering of how the women who won the war were pushed to the side lines when victory was declared.

But I could live with all this because, as before, it was a non-challenging pleasure. I like anything where catching a murderer is treated like solving a puzzle and a battle of wits. The first episode and opening half of the second passed the time quite well.

And then it all fell apart. The bizarre idea to split the four-part series into two separate two-part stories crushed the ending of the mystery. Sudden revelations meant that the person who so obviously did it turned out to have done it, albeit with a pattern that was different from what was initially conceived.

As a result, the space for twists and turns was lost and characters suddenly took on whole new sides in the most unbelievable of manners. It was hurried and poorly thought through. Spreading over four episodes would have enabled a few more characters to have been sketched out, more subtleties drawn out. Instead, both plot and character suffered.

Nobody tuning in was expecting Chekov. We know this is a rather light crime drama pretending to be worthier than it really it is. But treat us with respect. Give us something more to chew on. If this was supposed to be the concept that revived the show, it has failed. Instead of wanting more, I’m itching to turn off the life support. When the series ends, it needs to be gone for good.

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.

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.