Saturday, 24 January 2015

CSI series 15, Ted Danson, Elisabeth Shue, George Eads, Jorja Fox PREVIEW

It's gory and implausible, but why is CSI so popular? JG Ballard thought it was all about our innermost fears…

Ted Danson as DB Russell, Elisabeth Shue as Julie Finlay in CSI series 15
Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue in CSI. Pics:C5
Rating: ★★★

Channel 5: starts Saturday, 24 January, 10.15pm

Story: Julie discovers an explosive device planted in her car and the bomb squad desperately tries to figure out how to get her to safety.

WHAT A WEIRD and unsettling series CSI is. A house of horrors for the TV age, delving into nightmares of mortality with detachment and a throbbing rock beat.

Watching the opening episode of the 15th series, I was reminded of a typically provocative feature that JG Ballard wrote about the series 10 years ago in The Guardian. He became hooked on it and stated: 'The series was original, slick and deeply disturbing, though I wasn't too keen to find out why.'

But then he goes right ahead and dissects the drama anyway (excuse the pun). As a former medical student with experience in the exploration of corpses before he went on to write unsettling masterpieces such as Crash, The Unlimited Dream Company and High-Rise, his insights were intriguing.

Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue

He wrote about CSI taking place in a strangely interiorised world with emotionless protagonists, and his insights do still apply the latest series. While the cast has changed, with William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger giving way to Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue, and there have been small changes to the series' focus, Ballard still gets right under the skin of CSI's world.
'Interiorised world' – Russell confronts Briscoe

'The crimes - they are all homicides - take place in anonymous hotel rooms and in the tract housing of the Vegas suburbs, almost never in a casino or drug lord's gaudy palace,' he wrote.

'A brutal realism prevails, the grimmest in any crime series. Suburban lounges and that modern station of the cross, the hotel bathroom, are the settings of horrific murders, which thankfully are over by the time each episode begins. Gloves donned, the cast dismantle u-bends and plunge up to their elbows in toilet bowls, retrieving condoms, diaphragms and bullet casings, syringes, phials and other signs of the contemporary zodiac.'

The Gig Harbor Killer

One difference from 2005 in the opening episode of series 15, The CSI Effect, is that although the serial murders are over as it begins, we get a helpful flashback of the Gig Harbor Killer butchering three women to a blast of rock 'n' roll. So, not only do we pick through the viscera of the victims, we get a gratuitous pop video of the violence and torment that ended their lives.

Mark-Paul Gosselaar in CSI
Fiendishly clever – Briscoe
Like Silent Witness, the BBC long-runner that preceded CSI by four years, all faith is placed in forensic science, as though studying the choreography of a killing along with trajectories and hair fibres will reduce all possibilities down to one finite suspect.

Again, Ballard touched on this lack of heart in the show: 'Every viewer knows that the only people who show emotion in CSI are about to be dead. This lack of emotion extends to the cast, who never display a flicker of anger or revulsion.'

CSI has little emotion or plausibility

More recent hits such as Broadchurch, The Killing or Happy Valley have explored different realms of crime drama by depicting the emotional impact of violent crime. CSI prefers the cold exploration of death without emotion or plausibility.

The CSI Effect is off-the-radar in its preposterousness, starting with Julie Finlay finding herself in a booby-trapped car, while the Gig Harbor killer, Jared Briscoe, seems to be operating again even though he is in prison on death row.

As is common in series such as The Following and Criminal Minds, serial killers are all geniuses who deploy ludicrous levels of ingenuity in staging their crimes. So, Briscoe delighted in doing the forensic work on his crimes before the CSI team arrived, dusting for prints and leaving horoscope patterns in blood splatter and bullet trajectories.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Oz — Killer TV No.34

1997-2003, HBO 

'The worst stab wound is the one to the heart. Sure, most people survive it, but the heart is never quite the same.' – Augustus Hill

Christopher Meloni, Ernie Hudson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Harold Perrineau Jr, Eamonn Walker, Rita Moreno, John Lurie, Terry Kinney, Betty Buckley, Kathryn Erbe, Lee Tergesen, B. D. Wong, JK Simmons, Dean Winters, Scott William Winters, Edie Falco

Identikit: At the Oswald State Correctional Facility, the Homeboys, Muslims, Wiseguys Aryan Brotherhood, Latinos and other groups mark out their territory and live on their wits, while the authorities try to keep control.


The revolution wrought by subscription TV in the US has its roots here, with HBO's first one-hour drama series in 1997. Set in Oz, aka the Emerald City, a penitentiary turned 'correctional facility', it follows the daily machinations of dangerous and lesser criminals just trying to get by, told in stark, brutal detail. The story is cleverly opened up when the usually law-abiding Tobias Beecher finds himself behind bars for a drink-driving killing – a lamb among slavering wolves, forcing audiences to think, 'There but for the grace of god…' Having been roomed with one of the more vicious inmates, he is then 'saved' by Aryan inmate Vernon Schillinger, and his life goes from bad to worse under the thumb of the predatory racist. Episodes are narrated by wheelchair-bound Augustus Hill (shot by police during his arrest), who offers insight and some wry humour, and the style is gritty cinéma-vérité. The show took advantage of the freedom in storytelling offered by premium cable, creating plots that were taboo on mainstream TV – male rape, drug use, ethic/religious intolerance, violence and homosexuality, while featuring full male nudity and bad language. The show was raw and gripping, but never captured the haul of gongs that later successes from HBO would – The Sopranos, The Wire etc. However, it lasted for six seasons and won a devoted fan base of viewers who were captivated by its freshness and honesty.

Classic episode: A Game of Checkers (season 1, episode 8) – first series finale during which an argument over a board game flares into a full-blown riot in seconds. Breathtaking episode that put all the tensions and conflicts among inmates and staff into hyperdrive.  

Watercooler fact: Luke Perry, Eric Roberts, LL Cool J all made guest appearances, while cast regular Edie Falco went on to some great performances as Carmela in HBO's The Sopranos.

More of the Killer 50

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Third degree: Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty
ADRIAN McKINTY is one of the most acclaimed new crime writers from across the Irish Sea, routinely mentioned alongside Ken Bruen, Declan Hughes and John Connolly. His series of edgy thrillers about Catholic detective Sean Duffy and the character's exploits while working in the none-too-comfortable surroundings of the RUC during the Troubles, and later MI5, are developing a big following and have been hugely praised by reviewers. These include The Cold Cold GroundIn the Morning I'll Be Gone and his latest, Gun Street Girl. Here, he reveals his favourite TV shows, characters and authors…

Your favourite British crime series or thriller on TV?
Can I cheat and have a tie between two? Well I'm going to anyway: I really enjoyed The Fall, even though I had real reservations about the denouement of season 2! It was nice to see an ordinary crime drama set in Belfast, with brilliant acting and a tight economical script. My other favourite is Broadchurch. What a terrific bit of writing that was – unpacking the threads from an entire society with great little subplots and an ending that – although I saw coming (and which strangely involved zero detective work) – was very powerful none the less. Great stuff (and I LOVED the creepy psychic).

Favourite US crime series or thriller on TV? 
Matthew McConaughey in True Detective
True Detective. I so didn't want to watch this when I heard it involved an alleged conspiracy of satanists, which is a pretty hacky premise. But then I watched the pilot and was blown away by its audacity: three timelines, the philosophy of pessimism and entropy, extraordinary acting and cinematography... And then the series only got darker, deeper and better. Wow.

Do you have a favourite Irish TV crime series?
I'll throw The Fall in there too.

Top TV cop?
Gotta be Columbo. Outwitting the rich and famous with the power of his mind alone.

Which unfilmed book/character should be made into a TV drama?
I'm shocked that they haven't made Ellroy's Underworld trilogy into anything...

If one of your novels were filmed, who would you cast to be the hero? 
Fassbender would be a great Sean Duffy.

What’s your guilty pleasure on TV? 
I don't believe in the concept of guilty pleasures to be honest. I like what I like and I don't feel any shame or guilt. One thing I like that no one else seems to like in my family is the programme Mighty Ships? Heard of that? Didn't think so. Could just be a niche interest there.

Least favourite cop show/thriller? 
Not a fan of British nostalgia mystery shows set in the 1950s or 40s when there were no black people and poor people knew their place…
Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

Do you prefer The Wire orThe Sopranos
Haven't seen The Wire and I – gasp – think The Sopranosis over rated. All those tedious scenes with Carmela and the priest or the annoying kids… I'll say Breaking Bad.

Marple/Poirot or Sherlock Holmes? 
Marple. Despite the answer I gave two questions ago. I love cops who solve things with that big gray muscle between their ears and Miss M does that in spades...

Wallander – BBC or the Swedish version?
Gotta go with Ken Branagh. Love him.

US or British or Euro television crime dramas?
They are quite different animals but nothing I've seen recently on Brit or Euro TV can compete with True Detective and Breaking Bad…

Your favourite crime/thriller writers?
Rankin, Ellroy, Peace, Neville, McGilloway, Woodrell.

Have you read a crime novel that’s really knocked you out lately?
I'm reading a sci-fi crime novel called Great North Road that I'm very much enjoying, set in a future Newcastle…

Favourite non-crime/thriller author?
Adrian McKinty, Gun Street GirlJG Ballard or Angela Carter.

Favourite crime movie or thriller?
Miller's Crossing.

You’ve been framed for murder. Which fictional detective/sleuth would you want to call up?
I'd want Marple. I think she has the best brain of all of them.

• Adrian's latest Sean Duffy novel, Gun Street Girl, is available from Amazon. His blog is also an interesting and enjoyable read, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life

See also CrimeTimePreview's Q&A with Ian Rankin

Monday, 19 January 2015

Fortitude, Sky Atlantic, Sofie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Eccleston PREVIEW

Sky Atlantic's much-anticipated new crime series is a slow thaw, but it has a great cast and a terrific setting

Stanley Tucci as DCI Eugene Morton; Sophie Grabol as Hildur Odegard; Christopher Eccleston as Professor Charlie Stoddart in fortitude
In cold blood – murder comes to Fortitude, with Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston. Pics: Sky
Rating: ★★★½

Sky Atlantic: starts Thursday, 29 January, 9pm

Story: In the close-knit community of Fortitude in the Arctic Circle, a murder touches everyone and the unsettling horror of the crime threatens the future of the town itself.

AN AVALANCHE of hype has accompanied Sky's Arctic thriller. At a rumoured £25million it has cost more than the entire budget of the Sky Arts channel, apparently. It's meant to pitch Sky Atlantic into the HBO league of major drama creators. It's the network's most ambitious series ever etc etc.
Richard Dormer as Dan Anderssen in Fortitude
Sheriff Dan doesn't think the town is big enough for him and Morton

With a terrific international roster of actors including Stanley Tucci, Sofie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Dormer and Sienna Guillory, it certainly grabs the attention. And devotees of recent dark mysteries such as The Killing and Broadchurch will also be intrigued by an unusual 11-parter set in an almost surreal frozen setting.

But, on viewing it, how does Fortitude measure up? I thought it got off to a slightly bewildering start.

Sofie Grabol is Fortitude's governor

Michael Gambon as Henry Tyson in Fortitude
Wildlife photographer Henry makes a horrid discovery
The opening feature-length episode is stunningly set in an Icelandic town, but it hurriedly throws so many characters and storylines at you that the first hour leaves you a bit, well, cold.

It begins with Michael Gambon's Henry stumbling on a savage scene on the seafront, which is immediately disconcerting. Then a young lad is stricken with a mystery illness and is left by his father, who's having illicit sex with a hotel receptionist.

Meanwhile, the discovery of a mammoth's remains by two chancers threatens the plans of the governor, Hildur (The Killing's Sofie Grabol), to redevelop Fortitude.

We also meet the town's odd but charming PCs Ingrid and Petra, and new arrival Vincent (played by Luke Treadaway), who's here to help Professor Stoddart (Christopher Eccleston).

Stanley Tucci as DCI Morton

There's more, but the blizzard of plotlines comes to a halt when a grisly murder is discovered, and the town with no crime is abruptly revealed to actually harbour very dark undercurrents.
Mia Jexen as PC Ingrid; Alexandra Moen as PC Petra in Fortitude
Ingrid and Petra

It is when Stanley Tucci's character, DCI Eugene Morton, arrives from London that the drama gels and we get our bearings (though how an American with FBI credentials happens to be working for London's Metropolitan Police is again confusing).

Morton is confronted by the antagonistic sheriff (Richard Dormer), which sets up the juicy prospect of a running battle between the pair.

After what is a messy opening episode, Fortitude could well develop into a sharp and intriguing drama. Created by Simon Donald, who wrote C4's gritty crime series Low Winter Sun, it is certainly original, with a savage but beautiful setting.


Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Death in Paradise series 4, Kris Marshall PREVIEW

Camille (SARA MARTINS), Humphrey (KRIS MARSHALL) Death in Paradise series 4
Camille (Sara Martins) and Humphrey (Kris Marshall) in Death in Paradise. Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★½

BBC1: Thursdays, 9pm

Story: A surf instructor is shot dead and fingers start to point at those staying at Sandy Cove surf school…

A WHILE AGO The Guardian's TV blog ran a post entitled Death in Paradise: How on earth does this get so many viewers?

That is indeed a mystery far more perplexing than any murder in the series. It's a comedy so light it barely raises a smile, it's a grimly formulaic whodunit – 'So, where were you all when you heard the shot' – and the characters are all as bland as sand.

Even the Caribbean setting of Saint-Marie is fake, while the ersatz reggae version of You're Wondering Now over the credits is predictable and annoying.

Simon Day plays suspect number one

Meanwhile, the investigations all feel rehashed from a million detective series past, and the old cliché
Charlie Beckett (SIMON DAY) in Death in Paradise
Simon Day as Charlie is in the frame
of having suspicious characters lurking in the background overhearing important plot points is borrowed from every soap on TV.

This week it's Simon Day behind the palm tree earwigging in on DI Humphrey Goodman and DS Camille Bordey. He plays dodger geezer Charlie Beckett, the sleuths' first suspect in the shooting of surf instructor Jake Peters.

Kris Marshall as Humph may be an acquired taste (having taken over from Ben Miller), but he has a decent go at playing the awkward Englishman. But even here the script over-eggs the role by having knocking things over and wearing odd socks.

Simon Day doesn't get much chance to shine, while Danny John-Jules as Dwayne (a long way from the much sharper Red Dwarf here) joins in with most of the cast by playing his part so broadly he might as well be in pantomime.

So why do millions watch Death in Paradise?

Yet the last series regularly hit almost six-million viewers every week, taking an audience share in its slot of 25 percent. That is down from an eye-popping eight-million for series two, but those are still terrific figures.

So, who are the mystery millions who keep tuning in to Death in Your Armchair?

Clearly, a lot of people like looking at the sunshine and beaches. Why else would the Beeb shown it in the middle of January? It could be the Teletubbies investigating the crimes, but so long as the weather and scenery's nice, it's a winner.

In addition, there are many viewers who don't want to see anything too bloody or distressing. Let's face it, series such as The Missing and The Fall can be uncomfortable at times, whereas DiP features bloodless killings.

And finally, Death in Paradise is simply nice. If you've been watching EastEnders earlier on Thursday evenings, you're probably desperate to see someone with a smile on their face again.

Cast: Kris Marshall DI Humphrey Goodman, Sara Martins DS Camille Bordey, Danny John-Jules Officer Dwayne Myers, Joséphine Jobert Officer Florence Cassell, Dean Lennox Kelly Jake Peters, Claire Goose Katie Peters, Hetti Bywater Jess Chambers, Will Mellor Karl Slater, Joel Fry Steve Taylor, Simon Day Charlie Beckett, Don Warrington Selwyn

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

House of Cards 3 – Trailer

'WE'RE MURDERERS, Francis,' says Claire to her scheming husband in this trailer for the new season of the political thriller, which returns next month. 'We're survivors,' he replies, but will the newly appointed President survive this series? The ante is raised sky-high as he attempts to negotiate with the Russian President and Claire appears to be losing the plot under all the pressure. Francis's rise to the top has been audacious, cynical and very watchable. It's been a great show, but let's face it, someone's got to rumble the dark prince soon…

Monday, 12 January 2015

The Sweeney — Killer TV No.35

1975-78, ITV

'We're the Sweeney. We kill you – nothing. You kill us – 30 years.' – Jack Regan

John Thaw (DI Jack Regan), Dennis Waterman (DS George Carter), Garfield Morgan (DCI Frank Haskins)

Identikit: Two members of the London Metropolitan Police service's Flying Squad use robust methods (fists, fabricating evidence, kidnapping) to take on the capital's armed robbers and other violent villains.


Sweeney Todd – Flying Squad, for all you non-East London geezers. The 1970s drama about two no-nonsense detectives, Jack Regan and George Carter, showcased a period when the Metropolitan Police bent the rules and did whatever it took to nail the bad guys. Though our fictional heroes certainly were not as out of control as the real thing, Regan did use his fists, arrange kidnappings, open mail illegally and fabricate evidence, but he didn't take backhanders. The coppers all drank and smoked too much and often looked like they had a hangover – no pretty boy actors in this cast. The British crime series had come a long way since Dixon of Dock Green (which only wrapped in 1976, when its star Jack Warner was an implausible 80 years old). His successors on The Sweeney were not the paragons the authorities liked to hold up. Produced on 16mm film stock at real locations, the series still looks vibrant and immediate. The accent was on action – London looks pretty dowdy and washed out – and the show was a huge hit, spawning two movies, Sweeney! (1977) and Sweeney 2 (1978), along with the 2012 Ray Winstone reboot. It was also fondly, obliquely recalled in the character of Life on Mars's Gene Hunt. It grew out of an Armchair Cinema film (1974) that firmly established the characters and what became the drama's catchphrase – 'Get yer trousers on, you're nicked!' Regan is the Met's leading thief taker, often kicking against red tape, and with a messy personal life. And then there is Carter, who's been lured reluctantly back to the squad by Regan, having previously left for family reasons. Everyone from Diana Dors and Lynda La Plante to Morecambe and Wise appeared, while in addition to the spin-off movies there were books, comic strips and mentions in pop records (Kate Bush, Squeeze) and parodies (The Comic Strip Presents…). Drinking, punch-ups, womanising and haring around town in a Ford Consul. 'Nuff said.

Classic episode: Taste of Fear from series three introduced psychopath Tim Cook, reckoned by aficionados to be the show's most formidable baddie. A much-admired episode mixing drama, tragedy and a riveting performance from the ironically well-named actor George Sweeney as Cook.

Watercooler fact: As a teenager 'Raymond' Winstone had a small role as '2nd Youth' in TV's The Sweeney before going on to emulate 'icon' John Thaw ('one of my favourite people') in the underwhelming big-screen remake.

More of the Killer 50

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Spiral series 5, Caroline Proust, Gregory Fitoussi, Thierry Godard, Audrey Fleurot PREVIEW

Spiralling out of control? Herville, Tintin and Laure. Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★★★

BBC4: starts Saturday, 10 January, 9pm

Story: Following the death of Sami, Captain Laure Berthaud is trying to cope as best she can. But with her personal life a mess,  she receives some unexpected news and is then plunged into the investigation of a shocking double murder. 

THANK GOODNESS for BBC4's Saturday night crime slot. It has transformed viewing habits in the UK, creating a passion for subtitled, high-quality Euro-crimers such as The Killing, The Bridge, Inspector Montalbano and the French contingent including Braquo and the even better Spiral.

Which returns tonight. The police drama is a cut above the norm with its superb interweaving of stories involving the detective squad under Captain Laure Berhaud – caught between the criminals and her own backstabbing bosses – and the machinations of the legal eagles, particularly the cynical Joséphine Karlsson.

It is a tough drama, full of hard-bitten cops and the realpolitik of the justice system. Series four even ventured into the realm of home-grown terrorism in France, a subject that became horrifically real this week.

Captain Berthaud's hard-bitten boys

Back in the fictional world, Captain Berthaud is wilting a bit under all the pressure. She may be a
Crime scene – Gilou and Laure
female role model as she holds her crew of hard-nut cops together, but she's no paragon. She makes mistakes, shoots suspects and slaps people around. Somehow, she usually just about gets a result.

Not so in her personal relationships. As series five begins, she is in a bar picking up a stranger for some car sex. However, things don't go as planned and Berthaud makes a shocking discovery about herself.

Her lieutenant Gilou tells her in his usual blunt way that she's acting like a zombie. That's when she's not screaming at their colleague Tintin for having a plaque made commemorating their much missed colleague Sami, who died in series four.


Friday, 9 January 2015

Broadchurch 2, first episode verdict

Oliva Colman as Ellie Miller in Broadchurch 2 ITV
It's a lonely road for Ellie Miller in Broadchurch 2. Pics: ITV
AFTER ALL the secrecy and teaser trailers, the dust has settled and the votes are coming in on our mini-poll (top right).

And it must be said that writer/creator Chris Chibnall hit a bullseye in re-energising a popular drama that seemed to have reached a pretty conclusive end in series one.

David Tennant said 'by the first commercial break people will be enthralled', and he was spot on. Because by then we had the first major twist – Joe spoiling everyone's day by pleading not guilty to the murder of Danny.

Sandbrook's as bad as Broadchurch

Getting detectives Ellie Miller (Olivia Colman) and Alec Hardy (Tennant) back into the action was
Nige helps a distressed Mark, while Jocelyn looks on
smoothly done, too. We'd assumed Ellie would have had to move to Timbuktu after husband Joe was exposed as the hateful small-town child killer, but traffic duty in Devon was bad enough.

We also found out more about Hardy's big case that turned sour before Broadchurch – in Sandbrook. Hardy's health was rocky in series one and he is no longer a detective, but he is still trying to protect Claire (Eve Myles), who testified against her dangerous-looking husband, Lee Ashworth, whom Hardy had pegged as a murderer. Ashworth walked free when the Sandbrook trial collapsed, and is now stalking Claire and Broadchurch.

Charlotte Rampling v Marianne Jean-Baptiste

Another terrific new plotline involved Charlotte Rampling as retired lawyer Jocelyn, fronting up to Oscar-nominated Marianne Jean-Baptiste as QC Sharon, Jocelyn's former protégé and now defender
MARIANNE JEAN-BAPTISTE as Sharon, Broadchurch 2
Sharon has Danny's body disinterred
of Joe Miller. Their polite but highly charged face-off on the Broadchurch sands at the conclusion of this opener has set up a blockbuster confrontation between the women in court.

My one doubt about the story now is that if Joe ends up being proved not to have killed Danny, Chibnall will have led us all up the garden path and it could end up making a nonsense of the drama that gripped us all in series one. Not quite on a level with Bobby Ewing dying in what turned out to be a dream in Dallas, but still potentially annoying.

Favourite scene from ep1? Mine was Miller resisting Hardy's offer to 'hug it off' in the Ladies. Olivia Colman even blew David Tennant away in a heartbreaking scene that was still tender and funny. Superb.

Broadchurch on ITV Player
10 Lessons from Broadchurch 2, Mail Online