Archives for posts with tag: murder

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.

In the latest instalment of ‘Matthew gets round to watching something after months of hearing how good it is’, I finally settled down to watch How to Get Away with Murder. It is a perfect fit for me in many regards. For a start, it is a legal drama, one of my favourite genres. Also, there is a mystery subplot, one which moves us between two timeframes. Oh, and the lead character is a strong, well-rounded woman. Tick, tick and tick.

Yet, three episodes into season 1, I finding this squarely sitting in the ‘I like it’ category and not the ‘I love it, let’s watch the next episode now’. Surprised at my disappointment, I decided to trace the reasons for it.

I will start with the reasons I like it. The cases are suitably odd – millionaire framed for his wife’s killing, soccer mom has past life as terrorist etc. I always like to see how the legal mind works its way through puzzles such as these. Whether it is missing pieces of evidence or loopholes in the law, the mental gymnastics that are performed are brilliant to watch.

The mystery plot is also solid, although anybody who has watched similar shows before will probably see most of the twists well signposted. Desperate Housewives, in its early seasons at least, did it better. Even so, it is an enjoyable enough ride.

So if the plot is working well enough, what’s the problem? For me, it’s the characters. Whilst it always takes time to add layers to people, I find the chosen five students to all be irritating and/or bland. Wes, in particular, bores me, which makes it all the more frustrating that he is being marked as the emotional heart of the show. Out of the five, only Connor saves them, and that is because I have a soft spot for LGBT characters.

Annalise herself is also frustrating. I feel as if we have seen the ball-breaker legal woman before (see my thoughts on Suits last week). In the early episodes, when she is emotional about her husband’s potential role in the murder, I’m not sure if she is genuine or merely stringing people along. The rule of thumb for me is that you are allowed to take other characters for fools, but only do it to viewers if you have something brilliant lined up to make it worthwhile, and so far it doesn’t. Or maybe I am missing something obvious.

One final thought does strike me, which is that maybe part of the problem is that I am watching this through Netflix on my laptop, where the temptation is to open a second window and do some shopping or social networking at the same time. Not having my undivided attention is perhaps costing the show, although I did the same with The Good Wife and had no such problem with investing in it.

I will stick with the show, as I feel that perhaps my character judgements are too harsh for now. But it hasn’t claimed a special place in my TV temple. Quite frankly, it would have to do something quite spectacular to do so.

After an absence of what feels like forever, Scott & Bailey is back on our screens. Rather than a full length series though, we are instead getting just 3 episodes, all built around one plotline. To be fair, it is a strong one – two serial killers challenging each other to kill pre-selected targets on an encrypted website. All very dark and sinister, and made worse by a blunder in the team blowing the coverage of the investigation into the open.

But S&B is never really about the murders. Or rather, it is not a guessing game of ‘whodunit?’ like some other shows. The murderer is always fairly obvious, so the drama instead stems from how the case is pieced together. The forensics, the eyewitnesses, the team briefing sessions where everything collected together is picked over. The programme is a joy for crime geeks.

Another key feature of a good episode is the interview with the prime suspect. This is where Lesley Sharp, who plays Janet Scott, comes into her own. Quiet, patient and methodical, Scott sees the cracks in the story and slowly levers them into chasms down which the suspect falls. This series has been short on them thus far, so I’m hoping for a barnstormer in the finale later this week.

Of course, S&B wouldn’t be the same without some personal drama as well. Scott has a daughter being investigated and the brink of being put on the sex offenders register, whilst Rachel Bailey (Suranne Jones playing her as flinty as ever) is acting DI whilst being pregnant. To add to this, the killers have made Bailey their next target. With this series being billed as the last ever, it makes next week’s episode all the more unpredictable, as there is no guarantee anyone will get out alive.

I must admit to missing DCI Gill Murray though. I loved her general indomitableness, someone who was a real force of nature yet also good at calming the fires. They should have brought her like Lewis, as someone casually consulting on the case.

Overall though, I am delighted the show is back, and is bowing out on something so daring. It will be missed when it is gone, yet it oddly feels right to be saying goodbye to it. And with one episode to go, and so much at stake, you know it is going to out on a high.

It is a much repeated saying that if Dickens was around today he would be writing for Eastenders. Personally, despite him being a Londoner, I have always thought his melodramatic tragi-comedy would have made him more of a Coronation Street fan, but the point still stands. He was a very talented writer, albeit one who strayed into soapy territory at times.

So what if Dickens novels were made into soap operas? How would characters from different novels interact with each other? Well wonder no more, dear people, because Dickensian is that very thing. The brainchild of Eastenders writer Tony Jordan, it is a melting pot of Dickens novels, including (but not limited) to Bleak House, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.

On the surface it is a bit of an odd fish. At times it seems to be an origins tale, explaining how Miss Havisham became the eternal bride, and how Lady Dedlock became married to a man she never loved. This is all well and good, but anyone familiar with the novels would know what the ending of the journeys is, meaning that as much as you want to change the course of the characters journey, you can’t. Amelia will get duped, Honoria will never marry her sweetheart. Whilst it is fascinating to watch their lives steadily reach the point where we meet them at the start of the books, it is also painful.

Far more interesting is the plot that steps out of the books much more, namely the murder of Jacob Marley. The characterisation of Inspector Bucket is beautifully done, Stephen Rea playing him as a quiet, monotonous man who still exudes enough of a threatening air to make him feared by criminals as opposed to the joke he could so easily become. Admittedly the fact that everyone is a suspect (a different episode puts a different character under the microscope) makes this slightly labourious, but it is bubbling away nicely. Maybe it will be solved if he gets his wife to help him, like in Bleak House.

There are other plots too of varying importance and interest: Sikes’ wooing of Nancy (we all know how that ends up), the Bumbles’ social climbing, Mrs Gamp’s hunt for gin. Overall, it is an interesting cauldron of ideas, although how everything is going to fit in to 20 episodes without something being lost is a big question.

Having said that, it would be interesting to see a second series following other plots. I’ve always wondered what became of Mortimor Lightwood and Eugene Wrayburn after the latter married. I always pictured Lightwood as being in love with Wrayburn and speculate on how he would fare relegated to the status of third wheel. And then there is those mentioned but so far not seen in the first series, in particular Uriah Heap and Mr Tulkinghorn, both of whom cast such powerful shadows in their books.

Anyway, I digress. At the end of the day, this is a fascinating and well-executed programme. It is both safe (who doesn’t love a bonnet drama?) yet daring in such a way that only the BBC can pull off. It somehow saves itself from being silly by tight writing, strong characters and irresistible plots. Not unlike Dickens’ novels themselves, then.

There are certain genres of television that generate a disproportionate amount of snobbery from certain quarters. The most obvious victims are reality shows, cosy Sunday night dramas and those documentaries about people with horrific medical conditions that some bright spark has condensed down to a snappy title that invites us all to gawp. Truth be told, I do avoid this latter category because I am never convinced that the people taking part are treated much better than an exhibit in a freak show.

There is another category that generates snobbery, one where such feelings are unjustified and the result of what happens when viewers of BBC4 accidentally find themselves on BBC1, or even more horrifically, ITV. It is the genre of ‘cosy crime’. The victim is some rotter either sexually or financially, killed in an esoteric manner and the motive is something buried in the past.  Midsomer Murders long seemed to be ruling this genre unchallenged until the BBC commissioned Death in Paradise. Set on a fictional Caribbean island, the premise is that a fish-out-of-water English detective winds up there, usually to begin with to solve the murder of his predecessor, aided by the local police force.

Every episode follows a set pattern. Someone is killed (not always the generic rotter we see in other series of this type) and roughly four or five suspects are in the same. The crime is solved when either one of the police officers or another sub-character makes a chance remark which leads the detective to a revelation. Everyone is gathered together and the suspect with the strongest alibi or weakest motive is revealed to be the killer. Essentially, the show asks nothing of the audience except to play along, so we expect nothing except a story worthwhile following. Hence why it so popular with millions, whilst mocked by those who have been spoilt by the influx of Nordic noir dramas.

However, there are murmurings of discontent with this latest series. Ben Miller, the original star, decided to quit at the end of series 2, and has been replaced by Kris Marshall. In order to demonstrate just how different the characters are, the team have replaced Miller’s suit-wearing, tea-drinking, borderline-OCD DI with Marshall’s clumsy, messy and easy-going persona. Personally, I am untroubled by this, yet many seem unimpressed with the change. Maybe it is a genuine love for Miller, or maybe it is just that Marshall was so annoying in the BT ads he did for years on end the public just cannot forgive him. The only thing I find concerning is that he has barely aged in the 20 years since he was in My Family. Seriously, gents, we need to be asking him what his skincare  routine is!

Death In Paradise is never going to stretch us intellectually. It is a daft, enjoyable ride that makes the grim winter outside. I know that ‘real TV’ lovers are supposed to obsess over gritty streets, violent kills and subtitles, but really, what’s wrong with sunshine, sand and sea with our murder? We can face reality whenever we want. Let’s have an hour where we can bask in a bit of cosy death.

Crime programmes broadly fall into two categories. There are those that are violent and sinister, where most of the action takes place somewhere with permanently overcast weather and everyone is forced to dress shabbily (unless they are the killer, who is sometimes allowed to be middle-class and shimmery, like some well-spoken Twilight vamp). Luther, Rebus and the ilk fill this role. I tend not to watch these. The motives and methods of killing are always too depressing and/or gruesome. Organs go missing and it turns out that some horrible paedophile ring is at the centre of it all. No, not my thing at all.

The other category is the crime programmes where there is an air of camp silliness about the whole thing. All the charcters are slightly batty, the setting is riduculously pleasant, and the main motive for murder is that one batty person has discovered that one of their relatives from centuries ago was killed by another batty persons relative, so they go on a massive killing spree for revenge. Midsomer Murders did this well for a long time. There was always a sense of tongue-in-cheek about the plot. Minor aristocracy flitted about big houses, villagers joined ever more elaborate social groups, people got murdered behing the WI tent at a fate. And it was sunny. All the time. Even at night there was nice weather.

Alas, it no longer feels the same. Recent episodes have drifted towards the sinister. People are being killed for reasons other than inheritance or some bizzare quirk of history. They don’t even have as many fates now. It gets worse. On a recent episode, a suspect lived on a (*gulp*) council estate. The problem is everyone involved in the show seems to be taking it seriously.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Perhaps the show is evolving because the auidence are asking it to. Maybe it’s because John Barnaby is a city cop who has moved to the country, whereas his predecessor Tom was always one the country sort. Or perhaps it’s always been more sinister then I thought it was. Besides, it still has the aristocrats flitting about in it. But if a peadophile ring shows up in the next episode, I’m gone.