Archives for posts with tag: 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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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.

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