Archives for posts with tag: crime

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

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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.

I tend to find that the talked-about TV that has people salivating tends to clash with one of my more mundane pleasures. It’s not that I’m opposed to challenging TV, I just tend to want it to be a source to wind me down rather than rev me up. This is why I miss the big BBC dramas in favour of an animated comedy or panel show on some remote cable channel.

Line of Duty was one such show. Until now. Series 4 started recently, and with nothing clashing with it, I decided to give it a try. And how glad I am I did. Two episodes in and I’m already obsessed with it, to the point where I long to find the first three series and catch up so I can appreciate every twist and turn.

Not that I really need to. The new series is, in many respects, a blank slate, with many long-running threads from previous story arcs now tied up. This makes it ideal for people like me to start following anti-corruption task force AC-12. A promotion to BBC1 shows the faith being placed in writer Jed Mercurio to deliver the goods – no more is this show a cult concern.

One of the things I love is that it indulges my love of detail. A good crime drama for me always has a healthy dose of ‘procedure’ – I always want to see the bureaucracy that detectives face. Whether it be the careful recording of evidence, the team huddles where the SIO lays out the day’s agenda or the interviews that are conducted like a game of cat and mouse, I adore it. Things like this are far better than throwing in a car chase or ludicrous plot twist.

Not that this show shies away from twists. There are plenty, and all excellently executed. It’s just that they are part of a bigger picture. Clearly the audience appreciates it, otherwise we wouldn’t be coming back for more each week.

As for the cast: sublime. Thandie Newton as our villain is par excellence, playing DCI Ros Huntley, allowing pressure from above to lead to her arresting the wrong man and digging herself into an ever greater mire the more she covers her tracks. Her paranoia over her head and hand wounds give her a Lady Macbeth quality, even when she is perpetrator of the crime rather than just the encourager.

Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar and Vicky McClure are all equally fantastic as the investigators trying to chip away at Huntley’s defences. Compson, in particular, exudes a quiet determination to get to the truth, even if he lets personal feelings cloud his judgement.

Normally, I would find a weakness or flaw, something undeveloped or not quite sitting right. But I can’t. This is as close to perfect as TV can get. Thank whatever is out there that I found it before I was too late.

American viewers would probably find several aspects of British TV strange, not least the fact that we often have to wait a long time for our shows to come back. In America, a series can end in May and be back September/October. Here, due to shorter season lengths, a show can run in January and February not be back until the same time next year, or even longer.

Take Broadchurch. Season one was out in March 2013. We then had to wait until January 2015 for number two, and the third only commenced in February of this year. Our friends over the pond wouldn’t tolerate this. But then, they have shows put together by teams, whilst many British ones are one-man band operations.

Furthermore, it is worth the wait. This series, the focus is on the rape of Trish Winterman. It is actually a good snapshot of the complexities of such a case. The perpetrator is known to the victim. The victim is traumatised and is only regaining her knowledge of what happened slowly. The shame she feels telling others, as if she was to blame. The muddying of the waters by her own recent sexual past – newly divorced and rediscovering single life. The incredulity of some of the officers on the case.

What creator Chris Chibnall does so well is slowly release drips of information and emotion. The tension isn’t created by fast-paced chases, but by the slow enveloping of the fog around people, for it to clear away at a similarly glacial pace. All this is punctuated by small explosions of emotion. Tempers are lost and then steadied. It is often the pushing down of emotion, as opposed to the unleashing of it, that drives the energy.

For example, the sub-plot of the aftermath of the events of the previous two seasons is handled beautifully. The parents of murdered Danny Latimer have gone down separate paths. Beth has rebuilt her life as a counsellor for sexual abuse victims, being the emotional pillar she so needed those years ago. Mark is on a path to destruction, angry at the lack of justice and wanting revenge. The scene where he is confronted by Beth is harrowing, not least the end where Beth walks away, denying she still dreams of their son. Her ‘no’ is almost choked, because of course she does, but she cannot carry on grieving.

In lesser hands, the ‘guess the rapist’ plot at the centre of this could be tacky. But it is the realness of it all, the fact that everyone is given convincing light and shade, that none of the men under suspicion are without darkness but also not pure monsters, that makes this show rise above it.

It goes without saying that the interplay between David Tennant and Olivia Coleman is as good as chemistry can get. Both playing out their own domestic dramas as they tackle the case. He, fearing his daughter’s every contact with a man, she, scared of her son following his father’s violent past. It’s telling how good this show is that, even with these two in it, plus the likes of Sarah Parish and Lenny Henry, star power never detracts from the strength of the stories.

This is to be the last series, which is sad. But also, it is the right thing to do. After a ropey second series, it is back on a high, and can bow it with its reputation of being a show that is both mainstream and challenging intact.

After what feels like an age, we are finally being treated to the second series of cop drama No Offence. This is easily one of my favourite things to watch at the moment, although it seems to be overshadowed all too easily in the eyes of the critics and viewers. The fuss given to mediocre reality shows like Let It Shine and lightweight dramas, such as The Halcyon, makes you wonder if those who seek to create genuine brilliance on TV are wasting their time.

Still, it is a delight to welcome back the irrepressible DI Viv Deering and her team. The show has neatly built on some of the loose threads of the first season, for example Dinah’s maternal interest in teen mum Cathy. We also have nods to the dramatic finale of the first season, where Deering’s husband died via cement spray and the secret she and Dinah must keep as a result.

The second series has enough fantastic plots of its own though. The long-running thread is of taking on Nigerian gang matriarch Nora Attah. What began as merely preventing gang warfare has now become a story of child sex trafficking. The twists have been fantastic and often introduced at a break-neck speed. Sometimes, this can make a show appear tacky, as if the next thing must top the last. Producer Paul Abbott has sensibly made it so that every twist seems real and natural though, every piece still fitting in the jigsaw that is being built.

It is also quite daring in its structure. Take episode two, where the gang warfare is at its peak. The first half is dedicated to scenes of rioting and high-stakes scenes, with people trapped in burning buildings and the pursuit of the henchman responsible for supplying the weapons. The second half focuses on the tidy-up. Any other cop drama would have made the riots the climax of the episode and brushed away the tidy up neatly. But the team behind this show now better – the riots aren’t the meat of the story, it is what they uncover that is.

Everybody is so good in the show, it is hard to single anyone out. Obviously Joanna Scanlan is fantastic as the tough, uncompromising yet loyal and caring Deering. Sarah Solemni is a clever addition as new Det. Superintendent Lickberg, a rule follower who begrudgingly admires Deering’s unorthodox methods. But my favourite is Paul Ritter as Professor Miller, a slightly pervy and unstable but incredibly astute pathologist. On average, he gets six lines an episode and slays them all.

If I had one moan, it would be that the leftover of the murdered husband plot is seemingly forgotten, despite being hinted at in week one as still factoring in on people, aside from the odd line. I wonder if in the last couple of episodes this is going to come back, or like Banquo’s ghost, just be something that haunts Deering and Dinah forever.

But this is a minor grumble. I love this show and want the world to see it and recognise it. So go on, give it a whirl. You will not regret it.

Series four of Sherlock was hotly anticipated. How could it not be? The first three seasons had been near perfect, and even a slightly wonky Christmas special had more pluses than minuses, with any confusion overturned by sheer energy. This was a show that was clever, almost taxing even, but still fun and fizzy. It was like a tangy sweet that supercharged your brain.

And then came series four. Oh lord, where to begin. There have been more than a few murmurings that this season lost the plot, and I am inclined to agree to a certain extent. I will pick over the faults in a moment, but to do so I feel I need to extol what I loved about the show previously.

Sherlock is, at heart, a crime drama. It is, after all, about the world’s most famous fictional detective. Hence, what you need is a crime or puzzle to solve. The joy is watching the connections form in Holmes’ mind as it takes leaps of logic. The best episodes left you giddy and gasping for air, but wanting to do it all over again, like the most amazing rollercoaster.

This series, however, we have had two major issues. The first is that the puzzle solving has been replaced by action. Take The Six Thatchers. Who and why is answered half way through, leaving the viewer instead being carted off on an action romp. The episode was saved only by the need to resolve a second mystery of finding the betrayer. Even then, we felt as if the episode had been more of a character study of Mary Watson, in order for the ending to leave us more sucker punched.

This need for a character study blighted episode three as well, this time of Sherlock and, to a lesser degree, Mycroft and Eurus. Whilst there may have been puzzles, it was always more of an emotional drama. But I wonder how many viewers wanted this? I know of many who are walking away from the show now finding the whole thing a mess.

The second episode was, for me, the strongest, because it most went back to what the show does best. It was about how to bring down a villain. Toby Jones was brilliantly chilling and we actually got to see Sherlock’s mind working. It also, bar a mortuary scene, was gloriously un-action like. Everybody got the chance to take a breath. It helped that Una Stubbs got her biggest share of the limelight of the series as well. Seriously, how can one brilliant character be so under used?

The case for the defence is we now have a mature, emotionally astute Sherlock. His sociopathy has been blunted and his awareness of his impact on others blossoming. He is entering a new plan. There also rumours that, if we do get a series 5, we will see a return to the more equally balanced episodes of the opening series. I do hope so. People love a mystery. We are more tepid on watching introspection.

Have you ever watched a show and, despite disliking so many aspects of it, continued watching, even on to the next season? It could be that the plot is genuinely gripping, or that you are interested in one particular character’s story arc, even if it is not the lead one. Sometimes it could just be habit or the comfort of the known- why risk something new that could be worse?

Most of the above applies to How to Get Away with Murder. Let’s start with why I dislike aspects of it, aspects of which probably cover what I have written previously about it. Firstly, I despise the vast majority of the characters. The students all appear to thin-skinned drama queens, whose sole mission seems to be make things worse until some freaky lightbulb moment occurs and they save the day. Even these though just spin off into a bigger problem.

Of course, that is nothing compared to my hatred of Annalise Keating. I find it odd that a major network drama is so dependent on someone who is impossible to warm to. The same problem is perhaps found in Frank Underwood in House of Cards, but at least he is a genuine anti-hero. Annalise is just a tetchy control freak.

The attempts to make her more sympathetic are confusing. I am currently in the second half of the second season, where we are leading to the build-up of her losing her child. Obviously, this is a traumatic moment, yet does little to counteract the coldness of her in the present day. Likewise, a supposed bisexual past and sexy dancing in the club feel tacked on to a character who, if was more well-rounded at the start, seems to lack depth.

There are signs though that the problem, at least with some the cast members, is being fixed. Connor and Laurel in particular are beginning to show something genuine about them. Connor is softening emotionally whilst also being a surprising moral compass, whilst Laurel is showing a self-awareness and an ability to look outwards lacking from the others. Even the rest are beginning to form a cohesive group, increasingly wary of their boss and aware of her fallibility.

Of course, the plot seems as silly as ever. Killing a DA and then pinning it on your client in order to get to the perpetrator of the murder that you were originally defending your client stretches the bounds of realism to the point where they nearly snap. And yet, you want to see if everything can be pulled off.

Weirdly, it is when this show tries to form an emotional heart, the thing it most lacks, that it veers off course. You can’t help feeling that Annalise would be better off served going full Underwood and throwing off her emotional past to drive forward and win, if not love, some genuine respect from the viewer. As it is, this show is fun to watch, but hard to engage with.