Friday, 7 January 2011

Taggart PREVIEW

Robbie (John Michie) and Jackie (Blythe Duff) on the trail of a suspect (all pics: (C) ITV)
Rating ★★★½

ITV1, Tuesday, 11 January, 9pm

It's the longest-running crime series on UK television, having cracked mud-derrr cases since Mrs Thatcher was running the country. So you'd expect more of a fanfare for the return of Taggart, but typical of its no-nonsense Glaswegian characters, the show is back with a minimum of fuss.

DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton)
ITV and its commercial sister across the border, STV, have a hard time letting some crime shows expire. So Morse without Morse has become Lewis, and Midsomer Murders is about to stagger on interminably once actor John Nettles departs – Tom Barnaby handing over to his cousin, John (played by Neil Dudgeon). The Beeb has played the same game with Silent Witness.

And Taggart, of course, went through a similar regeneration, to borrow Doctor Who's terminology. Former boxer turned actor Mark McManus was the original Taggart when the series launched in 1983, the writer and creator Glenn Chandler having famously got the inspiration for the characters' names from the headstones in Glasgow's Maryhill cemetery.

From McManus to MacPherson and beyond
McManus died in 1994 at the age of 59, but the series – the brand – was kept going, with Mike Jardine (actor James MacPherson) initially becoming the central character.
Investigating a young doctor's murder – DI Ross and DS Reid

When MacPherson left in 2002, the show became an ensemble piece with its current trio – the newcomer DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton) joining regulars DS Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff) and DI Robbie Ross (John Richie).

If this all sounds as appetising as reheating an old dinner, then it's worth remembering that curry takeaway can taste pretty good the next day. Which is another way of saying Taggart's stories are well-crafted and the cast is terrific and believable.

Glasgow torture
The new series is aiming to 'get back back to basics' by being gritty and recapturing the show's original dry humour. Without doing anything earth-shattering, it certainly succeeds in revitalising itself.

Bad Medicine starts off with a grisly torture scene, a man being cut with a Stanley knife, burned with a cigarette and finished off with a nail gun (I wonder if Glasgow Tourist Board are big fans of the series). The victim turns out to be a newly-qualified doctor who made and sold Ecstasy to pay his way through medical college.

Old pals fall out – DI Casey (Reece Dinsdale) and DCI Burke
The story gets a spicy twist with the arrival from London of two swaggering detectives, DI Casey (Reece Dinsdale), an old mate of Burke's, and loudmouth DS Morretti (Steve John Shepherd).

Siobhan Redmond
There's plenty of needle between the Scots and their southern 'colleagues', which is great to watch, and the tension is ratcheted up when more bodies turn up. Gritty this certainly is, with torture, three mud-derrrs and two suicides. As the title song says, 'This town is mean'.

Alex Norton is fun to watch as the old-school bulldog of a cop, happy to knock suspects about, and who here is reminded by his boss, Chief Supt Karen Campbell (Siobhan Redmond), that a 'DCI's pension is pretty good these days'.

Joining the cast is Davood Ghadmi as pathologist Duncan Clark, who gets a welcome in the form of a rollicking from Burke.

Robbie leans on a witness
But no less important than Burke, are Jackie Reid and Robbie Ross. She is the detective who has little more to look forward to than a night in with a bottle of Pinot Grigio, and he's the type, according to her, who goes for a 'one-night stand you then throw over the next day for the footie'.

All of which neatly captures the bleakness and humour of these characters. Welcome back.