Thursday, 17 April 2014

Britain's Favourite Detectives on Channel 5

OK, pop pickers, it's time for another countdown show and this time it's to determine the nation's favourite crime fighters. Channel 5 is devoting three hours to this trip down murder lane this Easter weekend (Saturday, 9.25pm).

The usual suspects will all feature, including Sherlock, Columbo, Morse, Poirot and Marple. There should be some fond memories and fun moments, such as Pierce Brosnan and Bruce Willis sleuthing debuts in Remington Steele and Moonlighting.

And of course the format demands plenty of talking heads chipping in – Lynda La Plante, Phil Davis, Una Stubbs, Felicity Kendall and Alan Davies included. So line up the Easter eggs on the sofa and get ready for the usual outrageous results.

My money's on Rosemary & Thyme. Classic.

Fargo Ch4, with Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Bob Odenkirk

No, it's not Elmer Fudd, but insurance man Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman). Pics: Ch4
Rating: ★★★ 

Channel 4: starts Sunday, 20 April, 9pm 

Story: Timid, henpecked insurance salesman Lester Nygaard is waiting in a hospital reception after a nose-breaking encounter with the guy who used to bully him at high school. He strikes up a conversation with a vengeful drifter, Lorne Malvo – a chance meeting that drastically changes his life.

SOME MOVIES are so adored and revered that TV honchos just can't resist paying tribute to them – or should that be can't resist cashing in on them.

Anyway, we've had the recent well-received TV re-imaginings of Silence of the Lambs with Hannibal and the Bates Motel reboot of Psycho. The latest is this 10-parter inspired by the Coen brothers' beautifully observed 1996 classic crime caper-gone-wrong Fargo.
Car crash waiting to happen – Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton)

The first thing to say is that none of these transfers come close to surpassing or even capturing the scintillating originality of the movies. That's too much to expect, so to be any good they need to cut a new TV path for themselves.

Lorne Malvo is a timebomb

Hannibal and Bates Motel have made it to second seasons, and Fargo shows a lot of promise in that regard.

The cast is really enticing, from Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton in the leads, to Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk as a cop who can't stand the sight of gore, and newcomer Allison Tolman as tyro investigator Molly Solverson in the nowheresville town of Bemidji.

While she bears some resemblance to Frances McDormand's iconic character Marge in the movie, and Freeman's timid insurance man Lester Nygaard recalls William H Macy's brilliantly stupid and greedy
Cops Solverson and Oswalt
Jerry Lundegaard, these are mere echoes of the original. The series has a totally fresh plot.

Lester meets Billy Bob Thornton's Lorne Malvo in a hospital waiting room after a run-in with the thug who used to bully him at high school. Malvo is a timebomb of malevolence and vengeance, and the most compelling character here, almost on a par with Anton Chigurh in the Coen's No Country for Old Men.

Lester Nygaard v Jerry Lundegaard

You know the moment Malvo says to Lester 'I would have killed that man' that Lester's life has taken a turn for the destructive. Thornton, veteran of off-beats such as that other Coen flick The Man Who Wasn't There and 2003's Bad Santa, brings the right level of crazed certainty to Malvo to make him watchable all the way.

Martin Freeman is good as Lester, but his character is not as well drawn as Jerry Lundegaard, whose catalogue of moronic blunders had a strange, stupid logic to them. Lester's descent is abrupt and lurid.
Lester runs into his old high school bully, Sam Hess

But the setting is again stark and beautiful, those long highways cutting through endless snowscapes. It makes a decent fist of capturing the movie's wonderful portrayal of 'Minnesota nice' and the local speech with its Nordic roots. So everyone says 'oh hun', 'yah' and 'jeez'.

By the end of the opener there's a lot of bloodshed and a good level of black humour. And with a host of interesting secondary characters still to appear, Fargo the TV show is looking like a good place to chill out.

Cast: Billy Bob Thornton Lorne Malvo, Martin Freeman Lester Nygaard, Allison Tolman Molly Solverson, Bob Odenkirk Bill Oswalt, Colin Hanks Gus Grimly, Joey King Greta Grimly

Try these links…

Fargo Channel 4
Bates Motel CrimeTimePreview
Hannibal CrimeTimePreview
Review NY Daily News

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Prey, ITV, with John Simm, Craig Parkinson, Adrian Edmondson PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★½

ITV: begins during week of 26 April-2 May

Story: Detective Sergeant Marcus Farrow, a well-liked copper who is wrongly accused and arrested for an inhumane crime. When he escapes custody he becomes an outlaw trying to clear his name.

PREY comes from the pounding action end of the crime-drama spectrum. Its starts with a bang and hardly lets the pace drop thereafter.

John Simm is the go-to guy if you want grim-faced cop on the edge. Here, he's over the edge – on the run, in fact, frantic after being accused of murdering his wife and youngest son.

He's Detective Sergeant Marcus Farrow, a well-liked copper who crosses paths with a nasty scrote called Lomax while trying to work out who killed 'Turkish godfather' Omer Hassan. Lomax makes a veiled threat about Farrow's family – 'We all have families' – and the next thing is Farrow's estranged wife and son are brutally stabbed to death.

John Simm is The Fugitive

The detective in charge of the case, Chief Inspector Susan Reinhardt, quickly concludes Farrow must
be the killer, based on the fact he and his ex, Abi, had had a nasty row. From there the plot spins off spectacularly as our man becomes a fugitive and finds out just how he has been betrayed.

Subtle it is not. But any story of a desperate cop on the run, with no allies, must have the cat-and-mouse intrigue to hold the audience if it is done well. And Bafta-winning director Nick Murphy keeps the thrills spilling out at a great pace.

It is also shot in gritty Manchester locations, all rough pubs with hard-looking punters. It's a refreshing shift of gear from the many psychological whodunits we see.

Craig Parkinson from Line of Duty

John Simm, as we know from hits such as Life on Mars and Mad Dogs, is very watchable as the man in a tight spot, though he is a bit too emotionally uptight for the devastating scenes following the murders
of his family, which don't quite convince.

Craig Parkinson turns up straight from his stint as dodgy Dot Cottan in Line of Duty, playing Marcus's detective colleague Sean Devlin.

The series has been written and created by TV newcomer Chris Lunt, who only became a professional writer in 2010 following a redundancy. He acknowledges Prey's debt to the classic US series The Fugitive, but has still come up with a punchy story about an ordinary guy in an extraordinary mess.

Cast: John Simm Marcus Farrow, Rosie Cavaliero Susan Reinhardt, Craig Parkinson Sean Devlin, Adrian Edmondson DCI Warner

Try these links:
John Simm Society blog
Script Angel interview with Chris Lunt

Hinterland BBC4, with Richard Harrington PREVIEW

DI Rhys, DCI Mathias, DC Ellis and DS Owens
Rating: ★★★

BBC4: starts Monday, 28 April, 9pm

Story: On his very first day in his new job in Aberystwyth, DCI Tom Mathias is called out to investigate a suspicious disappearance. In a quiet seaside bungalow he discovers a bathroom covered in blood but no sign of the owner.

BBC4 HAS helped to get British viewers to accept and enjoy subtitled crime dramas in Danish, Swedish, French, Flemish and Italian.

The Welsh must be delighted that they've finally been invited to the noir ball with a new cop show that
Catrin (Sara Lloyd-Gregory), former resident of the children's home
features their own language. Even if just about every other neighbouring country has already been showing us their moves for quite a few years now.

Hinterland is set in Aberystwyth and features some Welsh with subtitles, but is mostly in English. It's a standard procedural – dead body, new cop in town, twists upon twists – but it does a decent job of showing us Wales, a depiction that certainly gives Scandiland a run for its money in terms of how strange and disorientating a place can be.

Bloodbath at the bungalow

It looks very good, and the Beeb has done its bit by giving the story 90 minutes to play out, rather than the usual constricted hour.

DCI Tom Mathias is the grumpy new face on the beat. He is immediately faced with a grim mystery on his first morning. He is called to the beachside bungalow of 64-year-old Helen Jenkins.

The place is deserted, but inside is a bloodbath. Literally – the bath is full of blood. Plus the floors and walls are covered in the stuff.

Chief Supt Prosser (Aneirin Hughes)
Who is DCI Mathias? We get no clue…

It turns out Helen Jenkins used to run a children's home near a spectacular ravine at Devil's Bridge. Mathias is pitched into a tale of abuse and decades old wounds.

If you like a whodunit with twists upon lurid twists, then this should do nicely. Because there is not much else to it apart from scenery and winding plot.

What is Mathias doing here? We're not told. Does he want to be in Aberystwyth? Probably not. What's his back story? No idea.

Richard Harrington as Mathias 

Poor Richard Harrington can do virtually nothing to make his character interesting because all he is asked to do is look glum, drive round the countryside and ask the other characters questions. If anything, it is Mali Harries as his deputy, Mared Rhys, who seems to be a living, breathing person with
Lonely beat – Tom Mathias
some hinterland of her own.

The same goes for the victim. We know she ran a shady institution but we never get any idea about who she was. She is just there to get the plot going.

The best series we've seen recently – Line of Duty, The Fall, Broadchurch – were huge because they created cracking characters that viewers became invested in. Ultimately, Hinterland falls flat because it's all 'Where were you on Saturday night?' and pretty scenery.

Cast: Richard Harrington Tom Mathias, Mali Harries DI Mared Rhys, Hannah Daniel DS Sian Owens, Alex Harries DC Lloyd Ellis

Saturday, 12 April 2014

True Detective episode 8 PREVIEW

Cohle's stash of evidence in a lock-up garage. Pics: Sky Atlantic
Sky Atlantic, Saturday 12 April, 9pm
True Detective is also available in the UK on Now TV

TONIGHT we go into the belly of the beast.

From the opening scenes, it is clear that what Rust Cohle and Martin Hart are up against and it is fairly nightmarish.

It would obviously be wrong for me to give away what occurs, but I would just say the final episode is no letdown. It is incredibly tense, frightening and moving.

True Detective confirms the view that US television as made by the subscription channels such as HBO, makers of this series, and AMC etc is far superior to anything in the UK. British series such as Line of Duty – particularly the second season – and The Fall have been very good, but in terms of ambition and depth they are far smaller than the likes of True Detective.
What have they got? Hart and Cohle

Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey have put in blockbuster performances as the mismatched detective partners. In just eight episodes it feels as though we have been on a huge journey with them.

And we have. True Detective has dazzled with its time-shifting narrative, its travels through the decades, from 1995 to 2002 to 2012.

It has teased us with horror literature references, alluding, for example, to RW Chambers's macabre short story collection The King in Yellow, first published in 1895, which, combined with the eerie depiction of the bayou, give the series its ominous, disorientating mood.

There is a fictional play in that story collection called The King in Yellow, the merest glimpse of whose second act will apparently drive men insane. All of
Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey)
which bodes ill for Cohle and Hart tonight.

McConaughey has had the show-stealing part, his bleak, logical, loopy monologues transfixing us and infuriating Hart. But, ultimately, his alienation is clear and understandable, as we learn by the end.

Nic Pizzolatto, the series creator and writer, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga will now be closely watched to see what conjure up next.

So what is next? Brad Pitt is said to be a target for season two, as Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson move on to other things. There are also rumours that the two protagonists will be women next time round.

Or not. Maybe there'll be a team of cops. Pizzolatto has hinted the setting could move west to California
Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson)
and involve 'hard women, bad men and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system'.

Now that sounds intriguing.

Meantime, try these links…

True Detective on Sky Atlantic
True Detective on HBO, a superb site
'Undumbing of American TV' in the Daily Telegraph
'What British drama can learn from True Detective' in the Daily Telegraph
What Might Season 2 Have in Store from Den of Geek

Saturday, 5 April 2014

True Detective episode 7 PREVIEW

Facing the horror – Rust Cohle

Sky Atlantic, Saturday 5 April, 9pm
True Detective is also available in the UK on Now TV

TRUE DETECTIVE has been superb so far. The worry is that, like so many shows that get off to a good start, this might peter out and not live up to its potential.

Tonight's episode dispels that fear – it is building to a terrific and fightening ending. Episode 6
Maggie relocates Cohle
concluded with Cohle – at a low point and under suspicion by detectives Papania and Gilbough – stopping his estranged partner Hart and suggesting they get back on the case.

There is a difficult meeting between the two. Hart, is unsurprisingly reluctant to team up with his morbid partner on some wild goose chase, particularly after that business between Cohle and Maggie. Cohle plays the guilt card, saying Hart, who is now a private investigator, should help because 'it's your debt, because of the way it went down in 1995'. An acknowledgement that they didn't really close the case after Hart started shooting at Ledoux's cabin.

Cohle also shows Hart his secret hoard of evidence, which he refused to reveal to Papania and Gilbough, fearing some kind of high-level conspiracy. This proves to be nightmarish stuff.

And Cohle certainly need helps with the case. He is without means as the story reaches 2002, working
Hart and Sheriff Geraci
as a bartender. But he has managed to explore the Tuttle angle, followed the trail of disappearances and the symbolism of the Doran Lange murder. He needs Hart to finish the investigation.

We also learn how he got hold of all his evidence – through burglary and theft and tracking down witnesses. But that is nothing to the drastic action taken tonight when confronting sheriff Steve Geraci again, who was a deputy and helped to cover up one disappearance.

It all sets up next week's final episode beautifully. If anything, the denouement exceeds expectations.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Law & Order: UK – trailer for 'Pride'

Big episode on the ever excellent Law & Order: UK tonight (Wed, 2 March, ITV, 9pm), with Harriet Walter returning as Ronnie's old boss – but now she's in a spot of bother herself. The episode is called Pride, and in it Ronnie (Bradley Walsh) and Joe (Ben Bailey Smith) are looking for a murderer and find that the accused is a guy called Eddie Stewart (Martin Jarvis), who happens to be ex-DI Natalie Chandler's father, making it a tough day for Ronnie. Here's a trailer…

Veronica Mars — Killer TV No.44

Kirsten Bell as Veronica Mars
UPN/The CW, 2004-07

'I hear you do detective stuff for people.' – Jackson Douglas
'I do favours for friends.’ – Veronica
'I can pay.' – Jackson Douglas
'Sit down, friend.’ – Veronica

Kristen Bell, Percy Daggs III, Teddy Dunn, Jason Dohring, Amanda Seyfried, Sydney Tamilia Poitier, Francis Capra, Ryan Hansen, Kyle Gallner, Tessa Thompson, Enrico Colantoni

Identikit: High school girl Veronica moonlights as a private investigator while coping with the fallout from her sheriff dad’s decision to accuse the most powerful man in Neptune, California, of murdering his own daughter – that means dealing with the animosity of all her old friends, her dad losing his job and her mother leaving home.

logosVeronica Mars is a neo-noir mystery series for teenagers, which, although it was never loaded down with Emmys, proved that you don’t need big stars and high concepts to make a winner. Veronica Mars is superb because it is a beautifully written and crafted drama – witty and gritty, and was good enough to win plaudits from the likes of Joss Whedon (‘Best. Show. Ever.’), Kevin Smith (‘Hands down the best show on television right now’) and Stephen King (‘Nancy Drew meets Philip Marlowe, and the result is pure nitro’). We meet Veronica – a snarky, sparkling Kristen Bell – just after her best friend Lilly has been murdered and Veronica’s dad, Keith, the respected county sheriff, has lost his job after accusing Lilly’s powerful dad, Jake Kane, of her murder. In the backlash against the Mars family, Veronica is ousted from the best cliques in school and her mother develops a drink problem and leaves town. Her dad turns private investigator and Veronica helps out, though her pariah status often leaves her wondering if Keith was correct in his costly decision to accuse Jake Kane. Veronica Mars
Cast of Veronica Mars
ran for three seasons, with the first two being particularly well-regarded, both having an overall arc to the series, balanced with Veronica also solving mysteries each week. Glance at it and the show looks like any teen pap on any youth channel, but stick with an episode and the humour, smart plotting and hard edges are obvious. High school is shown to be a zoo of hormones, with all the clique-iness, bullying and status obsessions. But what a joy to see Veronica verbally dismantling rich thug Logan as he vandalises her car, or sabotaging Sheriff Lamb in a court case. The stories have their dark side, such as the rich kids' racism to the poorer Hispanics, the cops kowtowing to the rich townsfolk, and Veronica having been drugged at a party and raped. The grimness and her loss of status and friends were leavened by Veronica's toughness and cleverness, as she constantly outwits her foes in the sheriff’s office, the local biker gang or at school. Every episode fizzes with incorrigible one-liners – Troy, looking at her crumpled car tyre: ‘Flat?’ To which Veronica says, ‘Just as God made me.’ And there’s a nice soundtrack of retro and recent sounds. Well-drawn intrigue, humour and drama make this a particularly memorable story of teenage years and lost innocence.

Theme music: We Used to Be Friends by The Dandy Warhols
Clued-up Veronica

Classic episode: Not Pictured, episode 22 and the finale of season 2, in which Veronica graduates, works out that Cassidy sabotaged the bus at the start of the series when several classmates were killed, and she realises that it was Cassidy who raped her at the party.

Watercooler fact: The cancellation of Veronica Mars after three seasons always felt like a slap in the face to devotees of the show. In 2013 creator Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter fundraiser to raise funds from the public, resulting in $2million secured in 10 hours (in total, 90,000 backers eventually put in $5.7m). The film was made in the summer of 2013, and released last month to good reviews (see trailer below).

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