Category Archives: Detective/police drama

Law and Order UK: Criminally underrated

Nestled inconspicuously in the midweek 9pm slot, Law and Order UK is one of TV’s constants. Already eight seasons in, it’s a subtle staple of the schedules that rarely fails to deliver on all fronts. The format is quick and snappy, derived from a USA counterpart and, at times, the fast paced stories can seem rushed and contrived. However, the knowledge that a resolution to the mystery will become clear within the hour timeslot and we will see the plot unfold from the crime to the verdict and often beyond, is comforting.bradley-walsh

Law and Order UK does not pretend to be anything other than an hour of entertaining and easy to follow drama. There is no pretension here; a crime is committed, every character we meet will undoubtedly have played some vital part in the story (there is simply no time for many red herrings) and the police are a little bit too sharp in situations where the resolution can stretch the imagination. It doesn’t matter though; take Law and Order UK for what it is, and the hour flies by.

It is a little idealistic, usually painting the police and the prosecution team as heroic mavericks desperate only for the truth come out. Similarly, defence lawyers are painted as snarling and sneaky villains, searching for a loophole to get their crook off the hook. It’s a premise that works so long as you aren’t looking for a documentary.   Continue reading

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Joy of Sets: The Professionals Mk1

pla prosI will be honest with you. I adore the Professionals and have done since I was a child with (what felt like) a life-size poster of Bodie and Doyle on my bedroom wall. When I heard about the remastering of the show for DVD and Blu-Ray, you could probably have heard the squeeing from space. But, be warned, I watch this show with my slash goggles on – they allow me to overlook the political incorrectness, sexism and ludicrous moments like Cowley calling for a “helicopter and the nuclear bomb squad” or Bodie and Doyle defusing an atom bomb in a bowling alley (Stake Out) and focus on the alchemical gold of Bodie and Doyle.

For those who prefer a, ahem, straighter reading of the text, this is what you need to know. The lads have never looked better. Watching the repeats on ITV4 is genuinely like peering back through 30-odd years of grime. I’m not sure the show looked this good even when it was first aired… Network has done an incredible clean-up job. And the shiny new boxed set comes with lots of gorgeous extras, including exhaustive production notes (a 180-page paperback filled with everything you could ever want to know about the making of the first series. My only complaint is the tiny font they’ve used – good for the trees, bad for my eyes), Without Walls – the 1996 Channel 4 documentary about the show (which left me wanting to give creator Brian Clemens a slap, to be honest), a couple of bits of unused footage, and a massive gallery of photos, many of which haven’t been seen before, and covering the first few days’ shooting with Anthony Andrews as Bodie (on Old Dog With New Tricks).

pla punchbagOh and Network has put the episodes back together with the original, unintentionally hilarious, title sequences. I was too young to see the first couple of series, so for me Laurie Johnson’s iconic theme tune has always conjured the image of a car smashing through a window, Martin Shaw looking like he’s about to chop down a particularly nefarious tree and Lewis Collins ferociously working out in the gym. The sight of Shaw and Collins vigorously throwing themselves at random targets in the original titles is one that makes me smile and wince in equal measure. (We also get the original closing titles, worth checking for the sheer lack of traffic on the roads of London back then.)

If you’ve spent the last 35 years or so ignoring Bodie grabbing Doyle’s arse, Doyle touching up Bodie, or the pair of them making eyes at each other and flirting, and would like to continue watching from a heteronormative perspective – now’s the time to jump ship (if you’ll pardon the pun) on this review. Those who ship (or at least don’t mind if others ship) Bodie and Doyle, come with me below the line…

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Jonathan Creek: A mediocre act

jonathan-creekIt is almost unheard of for a positive soul like myself to post two negative blog posts in a row, which is why I went for the safe option of reviewing Mr Creek’s all new adventure, comfortable in the fact that I had yet to sit through an episode that I hadn’t enjoyed.

The past tense is not accidental, it pains me to say. The preview promised the return of a mystery/comedy, but it failed to deliver on both, leaving a lacklustre hour of sadly predictable and cliche television.

The main gripe must of course be the fact that there wasn’t a mystery to solve. The episode centred around a hammy actress (kudos to the apt casting of a former Hollyoaks star here) who was stabbed in the street by the wife of a stage hand who fancied her. Instead of reporting the stabber to the police, she was persuaded to cover her injury up, with the help of a makeup artist who put prosthetic skin over the wound (honestly, I’m not actually making that up). Continue reading

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Kick-ass women: Indira Varma

indira varmaThe final episode of the BBC 1 drama What Remains aired last night, and if you haven’t seen it, get yourself to iPlayer immediately. But leave the lights on.  I’m not going to post any spoilers, but what I will say is that the ending was twisted, dark and rather extreme. The final scene will haunt me for quite a while, I think.

Front and centre when any twisted, dark, extreme stuff was going on was the character of Elaine Markham, played with absolute swagger and charismatic nastiness by Indira Varma (who also appeared in Luther and has been cast in the next series of Game of Thrones). In a cast of incredible actors (Steven Mackintosh, David Threlfall etc), Varma stole every scene she was in. Elaine was, at best, bitchy, feisty, confident and sexy as hell. At worst, she was very, very bad indeed. Or, in Varma’s words, “When she’s your friend, it’s a party all the time, it’s great fun. But if she turns against you – that’s when you’re in trouble.”

Posted by PLA     (episode 1 and 2 reviewed here)

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What Remains: House of secrets

What RemainsI’m very much enjoying the BBC’s four-part drama What Remains, and not only because it has the wonderful Steven Mackintosh in it. It’s mysterious and gripping and there are great acting performances all over the place.

In last week’s opener, seven months’ pregnant Vidya and her partner Michael (Amber Rose Revah and Russell Tovey) moved into a flat in a big Victorian house, and found something nasty in the attic – the mummified corpse of the woman who used to live in the flat above them. David Threlfall’s DI Len Harper – wouldn’t you know it, on his very last day at work before retiring – is called in to have a look, but as there’s little forensic evidence to be had and no one seems to know much about the deceased, the police don’t think it’s worth following up. Len does, though, based on a bit of old-school instinct, and he carries on investigating even after he’s officially retired.

What RemainsThere are inevitable comparisons to Broadchurch in the way that the whole community (in this case, the residents of the house past and present) is under suspicion. In episode two, the finger of suspicion was pointing very firmly in the direction of stroppy Elaine Markham (Indira Varma) and her photographer girlfriend Peggy (Victoria Hamilton). There’s a feeling that Peggy feels more empathy for the dead girl than most – could it have been a crime of passion? Then there’s the mysterious schoolteacher/caretaker who lives on the ground floor. The other residents think he lives alone, but newcomer Michael knows different.

Everything is shot with a sickly, green hue and the house seems like a character itself, from the outside always shot from ground level and seeming to loom menacingly, and from inside all skewed angles, shadows, hidden corners and flaking paintwork. Flashback scenes are gradually filling in some of the background of the dead girl, Melissa. There are two episodes to go, and lots of secrets still to be exhumed.

The first two episodes are available to watch on iPlayer.

Posted by PLA

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Covert Affairs. Tosh on heels

covert affairs

We don’t have Sky, so we tried Netflix for the purposes of watching their new version of House of Cards. Once you start using Netflix (which I’m enjoying – particularly revisiting old series such as Jonathan Creek), they start recommending things.  Many US shows on it I’d not heard of. You’re not getting them up-to-date, so you’re often watching early series of shows that may now be defunct, or currently up to series five or six. I liked Lie to Me with Tim Roth, and a Twitter friend put me onto Modern Family, a classy, superb comedy I’d heartily recommend to anyone with good taste (and in fact will, when I get round to writing another post on it).

The early episodes of Covert Affairs, on the other hand are neither classy nor superb. They are so cheesy, in fact, watching it feels very much like eating a massive bag of Wotsits. You feel sick, you’ve had far too much, yet still you keep sticking your hand in, munching mechanically away. A guilty, occasionally heave-inducing pleasure.

There are good things about it. It’s fun. Anne ‘The Book Group’ Dudek is always great. She plays the sister of fresh new CIA operative, Annie Walker (Piper Perabo), who works for tough DPD (Domestic Protection Division) boss Joan (Kari Matchett) married to top boss Arthur Campbell (Peter ‘Sex Lies and Videotape’ Gallagher). There’s lots of internal politics and scheming. We have ambitious operatives such as Jai (Sendhil Ramamurthy), son of previous big CIA boss, who has a tense relationship with Arthur. There are many TV drama cliches in play at all times.

My tragedy is that I cannot see my own six pack

My tragedy is that I cannot see my own six pack

Annie’s bezzie mate in the CIA is Auggie, played by Christopher Gorman, an operative who supposedly lost his sight in Iraq and is therefore desk-bound these days. There are many fine visually impaired actors I’m sure, but CG isn’t one of them, by which I mean he has no visual impairment in real life. His key role in Covert Affairs seems to be to take his shirt off. Nothing wrong with that. He has a fine chest, and a winning way with the ladeez to be sure, and why not? But his character isn’t really pushing the envelope of disability awareness I don’t think.

covert-affairs-fashion

I will kick your butt so long as I don’t fall over in these stupid heels first

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NCIS’s 200th episode: Nearly as good as a slap to the back of the head

Leroy Jethro GibbsNow, just because I don’t write up every episode of NCIS for you, don’t go thinking I’ve missed a single one of its 200 episodes. I still love this show, and if you haven’t seen it yet, check out my first love letter to the best-looking navy cops around. There just isn’t time for me to blog it every week I’m afraid. However, this week is different. Not because it’s a milestone for the show, but because they chose to mark the moment with a very different kind of episode.

[Kinda spoilery from here on in…]

This isn’t the first time NCIS has entered an alternate reality (see the first two episodes of season three when the entire team have a Sixth Sense thing going on), and I have to confess the idea of Gibbs being in limbo while his life flashes before his eyes had me a little anxious. I should have known better.

Life Before His Eyes is not just fine by the show’s usually high standards, it’s full of rewards for the long-time viewer. The diner in which reality is temporarily suspended for Gibbs is packed with familiar faces from the present and the past. Jenny Shepard, Mike Franks, Joan Matteson, Ari Haswari, Caitlin Todd, Anne Gibbs (she’s a redhead, naturally), McCallister, Pacci, Pedro Hernandez, and, of course, Shannon and Kelly all make appearances at some point.

It’s also a Gibbs-centric episode, and who’s going to complain about that? And, in addition, it may just let the man heal a little. Lord knows he deserves to. As Mike Franks tells him, “You solved hundreds of cases, you helped families get over burying their dead by putting away murderers and terrorists.”

You could see this as a loving riposte to all the NCIS fan fiction/forum wishlists as it answers a whole lot of “but what if?” questions along the way. What if Cait hadn’t died on that rooftop? What if Gibbs hadn’t killed Pedro Hernandez? What if Shannon and Kelly hadn’t testified and been murdered? I, naturally, blubbed more than once.

And if all that isn’t enough, we also discover that Jimmy Palmer is absolutely ripped beneath those scrubs. As Gibbs murmurs at the end of Abby’s disclosure of her progress on this week’s case, “Who knew Palmer had abs like that?”

It’s not the perfect episode to start watching NCIS from, but it is a lovely present from NCIS to its fans – the next best thing to a personally-delivered Gibbs slap… Here’s to another 200 episodes!

Posted by Jo the Hat

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Shetland: More, please. Literally

henshallGuest post by Sarah Lady

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start… except the BBC, in its infinite wisdom, decided to start Shetland (its new Sunday night offering) three books into Ann Cleeves’ quartet. This has meant some jiggery pokery with both the plot and the characters which may annoy fans of the books, but the author has said she’s happy with the adaptation as it captures the spirit of both the books and the islands, so who are we to argue?

None of these changes detract from the series. It’s stunningly shot: all greens and coppers and rusts, earthy Autumnal which feels strange given the book is set in Spring and the fire festival, Up Helly Aa, featured in episode two, is in January. There’s an awful lot of daylight and not enough clothes for January too, but that’s a trifle. Shetland looks utterly beautiful and the music is sensitively haunting without turning every scene into a tourist information advert.

Dougie Henshall as Jimmy Perez is commanding and genuinely interesting to watch. I wanted to find out more about him and his rejigged back story; recently widowed, returned islander in this, rather than ‘new to the island’ with a wife on the mainland from the books. This change makes for a deeper, sadder, more interesting character. His concern for the well being of Cassie, his step daughter, and his relationship with her and her father is both touching and true to life. Cassie gets all the best lines, too:
“I can’t wait for this to be over?”
“What?”
“My childhood”

The supporting cast is generally good, full of granite faced old-school Scottish actors and the delicious Mark Bonnar, who plays Duncan Hunter, local businessman and Cassie’s dad. He’s an intriguing and potentially sinister character who hopefully plays a greater part in future episodes (a girl can dream, right?).

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Broadchurch: Mystery-on-sea

broadchurch(Ep.1) The trailer for Broadchurch really tells you most of what you need to know. David Tennant is in it and he’s looking haunted. Olivia Colman cries a lot. It’s about the murder of a young boy. It’s set by the sea and the sun is shining, but the town is full of secrets. There’s a cast of shadowy characters who will no doubt come to prominence as the series goes on (there are eight episodes) – the local reporter; the out of town reporter; the boy’s employer the grumpy newsagent; Olivia Colman’s son, the murdered boy’s friend, whose second reaction to the news of his friend’s death (the first was tears) was to delete every text and computer file relating to him; the young vicar; Pauline Quirke, who lives in a cliff-top caravan and hasn’t spoken yet but has been an onlooker.

It’s partly standard police procedural, but in the opening episode there were touches that lifted it above the standard. The presence of Tennant obviously gives it dramatic weight, but I was most impressed by Olivia Colman. As the local cop on the case and knowing the dead boy’s family personally, she’s heavily emotionally involved from the outset and Olivia Colman is totally real – she looks soaked in tears and grief, and it must have been a completely gruelling part to play.

Some of it was a wee bit obvious, like the boy’s dad’s progress through the town in the sunny morning before the murder was discovered, with a friendly word for every person he came across. We get it, it’s a friendly, tight-knit community. There were also some amazingly powerful scenes, such as when the boy’s mother was stuck in traffic and realised that the cause of the jam was that a body had been found at the beach. Already worried because her son hadn’t turned up for school, she left her car and set off running towards the beach in blind panic. I should think every parent in the country could relate to exactly how she was feeling. I bet more than one person went to check that junior was safe and snug in bed after watching this.

Posted by PLA 

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The Following: Things that go AAARRGGHH!!! in the night

the following bacon purefoyI watched the first episode of The Following last night (I know, only a week behind everybody else, as ep. 2 has already aired) and I think I’m still shivering. It’s seriously spooky stuff.

The set up is that Kevin Bacon plays Ryan Hardy, your typical ex-FBI agent with an alcohol problem and nightmares about his last case, the one where he took down a Seriously Bad Guy Indeed. The episode opened with the serial killer Bad Guy, Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) breaking out of prison, leaving a trail of gore in his wake – but how did he do it? And how will the FBI capture him before he kills again?

Obviously they need Hardy, and obviously after initial reluctance he’s persuaded to come back. This is where it starts getting properly creepy. Continue reading

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