Thursday, 29 September 2011

Hidden with Philip Glenister PREVIEW

Thekla Reuten, Philip Glenister and David Suchet. Pics: BBC/Origin
Rating ★★★

BBC1 from Thursday, 6 October, 9pm 

It must be a sign of scandal-plagued times that TV is getting paranoid. Hidden is the third in a recent sequence of absorbing conspiracy thrillers following Exile and The Shadow Line, and is at least as good as its predecessors.

It's a murky piece of noir with dark streets, a femme fatale and a dodgy hero, played very believably by a brooding Philip Glenister. He is Harry Venn, small-time solicitor suddenly confronted by ghosts from his past.

He gets a visit from a mysterious lawyer, Gina Hawkes (Thekla Reuten), who is representing an old mate of Harry's, Steve Quirke. Steve wants Harry to find another old chum – and criminal – by the name of Joe Collins.

Harry Venn – out of his depth?
Scandal for the Prime Minister, riots on the streets
Trouble is, most of these of former mates of Harry's were involved in his own criminal past, for Harry is a solicitor with a lot of baggage. When he visits Steve in the nick events turn surreal, with Steve telling Harry he's recently Hillman. Harry is angry to hear this because Hillman's body was identified in a morgue many years before.

The action intercuts with a robbery from their younger days that went disastrously wrong, with Hillman and Harry's brother both ending up dead, along with two policemen getting shot. Harry was the getaway driver.

While Harry's head is spinning with his commission from the elusive Gina – who's promised him £20,000 to find Collins – in the background are political scandals revolving around the Prime Minister, Brian Worsley, and riots on Britain's streets.

It's a terrific story from Ronan Bennett, who also wrote the Johnny Depp biopic about John Dillinger, Public Enemies. Night-time London is startlingly filmed, and Glenister moves up a gear from his recent indelible roles in Mad Dogs and Ashes to Ashes.

Drug taking, bribes and burglary
Harry Venn is a far more gritty performance. He's man on the edge who sleeps with his ex-wife, is insulted by his son, takes cocaine, smokes dope and is willing to bribe and burgle his way to finding out who Gina Hawkes is really working for.

Gina meets Harry in a London hotel
But he is also a sharp operator. Asking a hotel employee how much he wants to allow Harry to snoop round Gina's hotel room, he is told £500. 'Let's split the difference and call it 30 quid,' Harry replies.

There is a nicely menacing scene between Harry and Gina's doctor, and events finally turn very disturbing for the solicitor.

It's a four-parter, with David Suchet joining the story after the opening episode as Sir Nigel Fountain. While it is always tricky to judge a series after one episode, Hidden was so good it already looks like one of the best crime dramas of the year.

Cast: Philip Glenister Harry Venn, Thekla Reuten Gina Hawkes, David Suchet Sir Nigel Fountain, Anna Chancellor Elspeth Verney, Mark Powley Mark Venn, Mark Flitton Paul Hillman, Thomas Craig Fenton Russell, Richard Durden Dr Sturgess, Richard Dormer Frank Hanna, Peter Guinness Jason Styles, Paul Ritter Steve Quirke, Lisa Kay Lauren

Monday, 26 September 2011

Romanzo Criminale – Italian TV series PREVIEW

Ice, the Lebanese, Patrizia, Dandi and Scialoja (front). Pics: BSkyB
Rating ★★★★

Sky Arts 1 from Tuesday, 4 October, 9pm

Story: Inspired by real events – in Rome during the 1970s, a gang run by a crook known as the  Lebanese joins forces with that of a shrewd rival leader called Ice to attempt to become criminal kingpins in the capital. Their first bid to make huge amounts of cash involves kidnapping a wealthy aristocrat, but the plot goes violently wrong… On the trail of the Banda della Magliana, as the gang is called, is idealistic police inspector Nicola Scialoja.

The latest subtitled crime series to hit town and rough-up the home-grown plods such as Lewis and DCI Banks is Romanzo Criminale, a 22-part gangster epic inspired by real events.

Following on from the Wallander successes, Spiral and The Killing, this Italian drama from Sky Italia is all macho stares, nudity, 70s pop music and brutal gang warfare. While it is reminiscent of GoodFellas – murders cross-cut with weddings, set to rock music; the period setting – it is also an compelling bit of history from a turbulent period in Italy's recent past.

The Lebanese holds court
Kidnapping goes brutally wrong
The focus of the story is a small-time gangster called the Lebanese (all the crooks go by nicknames). Sick of being a minnow in the capital's crime pool, he and his partner, Dandi, set out to generate some serious cash by kidnapping a wealthy aristocrat, Baron Rosellini, and ransoming him. The Lebanese falls in with another mob run by a clever leader called Ice, and together they try to step up to the big league.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Ringer with Sarah Michelle Gellar PREVIEW

Siobhan and Bridget – two Sarah Michelle Gellars for the price of one. Pic: Sky Living
Rating ★★½

Sky Living, from Thursday 29 September, 8pm

The trouble with Sarah Michelle Gellar’s new thriller series Ringer is that it’s hard to tell it apart from a really silly drama. 

It’s the spitting image of a show whose story is so daft it’s almost funny. It bears an uncanny resemblance to a series that’ll have many viewers thinking, How the heck did this get made? 
All right, you’ve guessed it. Ringer is no ringer of a dud show. It’s the real deal.
Addict and ex-stripper
It’s Gellar’s first outing since she finished vampire slaying as Buffy in 2003. She’s had plenty of time to cherry-pick a cracking series for the next phase of her TV career, after a string of forgettable films (Southland Tales, Veronika Decides to Die etc). But why she chose this show is a bigger mystery than anything Ringer can throw at us.

She plays recovering addict and ex-stripper Bridget, who we meet as she is about to testify as a witness in a murder case. Afraid, she slugs the cop guarding her and goes on the run.

To the home of her estranged  and wealthy twin, Siobhan, whom she hasn’t seen for six years. Here the story spirals into the realm of stark staring implausibility. 

Worst back-projection seen since the 1950s
Siobhan is married to millionaire Andrew, but has strangely never mentioned to him that she has a twin sister. So, somehow having a sister has slipped Siobhan’s mind, and she obviously hasn’t got any family snap shots for Andrew to see.

No sooner have Bridget and Siobhan reconnected than Siobhan apparently disappears over the side of her motor boat – which is totally unbelievable because the sea scene is obviously filmed in a studio and features the worst back-projection seen since the 1950s. 
This allows Bridget to step into Siobhan's shoes, not that the latter’s husband, lover, daughter or best friend notice. Thereafter the viewer will sit agog, groaning, ‘But surely…’ and ‘How could they not realise?’ and ‘Oh, come on!’

Siobhan – aka Bridget – is pregnant
When Bridget discovers that Siobhan is pregnant, she stupidly blurts it out in front of Andrew, creating another gigantic problem for herself – now she has to deceive everyone and pretend to be pregnant. And inevitably, it turns out Siobhan is leading as dangerous a life as Bridget, having a homicidal maniac after her that Bridget has to deal with.

What could have been an intriguing premise gets buried under a tsunami of bonkers improbabilities. The best that could happen for the series is that it might emerge as a bit of camp fun with its B-movie back projection and soapy plot.  

Andrew, by the way, is played by Ioan Gruffud, who must have thought he’d hit the big time in The Fantastic Four after making his name in Hornblower. Well, like Gellar, it seems unlikely he'll be blowing his trumpet about Ringer.

Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar Bridget Kelly and Siobhan Martin, Ioan Gruffudd Andrew Martin, Kristoffer Polaha Henry Butler, Nestor Carbonell Victor Machado, Tara Summers Gemma Butler, Mike Colter Malcolm Ward

Monday, 19 September 2011

Spooks final series

Dimitri, Ruth, Harry, Calum and Erin. Pics: BBC/Kudos
Rating ★★★½

BBC1, Sundays, 9pm

Story: Harry's dismissal is delayed and he is quickly sent back to the Grid by the Home Secretary. Old secrets have resurfaced after Max Witt, a retired spy and colleague from Harry's days in Berlin during the Cold War, is murdered. As Russia and Britain move towards repairing their relations, with Ilya Gavrik, Harry's former KGB counterpart, and his wife, Elena, flying to London, Harry faces renewed threats and the exposure of his own past.

MI5's spooks met their match on Sunday night. The chambermaids and toffs of ITV1's Downton Abbey succeeded where the spies of Russia and China failed in giving Sir Harry Pearce's team a drubbing, hitting 9.3 million viewers to Spooks' 4.6 million.

So the Beeb's intention of giving the 10th and final series of Spooks a rousing send-off fell flat. Going head-to-head with Julian Fellowe's much adored period drama on a Sunday night when Downton also won four Emmys in the US was rash of the BBC.

Which is a shame because Spooks kicked off with a pretty decent episode. Sir Harry Pearce finished the last series with the words 'start preparing for life after MI5' ringing in his ears. But the inquisition into his conduct was abruptly stalled by the Home Secretary, who needed Harry back at the Grid. As Ruth says, 'Someone jammed the guillotine.'

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Body Farm with Tara Fitzgerald PREVIEW

Tara Fitzgerald and Keith Allen. Pics: BBC
Rating ★★★½

BBC1 starts Tuesday, 13 September, 9pm

Story: In this new series, leading forensic pathologist Dr Eve Lockhart runs a state-of-the-art  research lab. She gets a call from DI Craig Hale asking for help at an unusual crime scene, an offer that could bring badly needed funding to the Body Farm.

Lovely – a series about rotting, putrid corpses.

With plenty of dialogue about 'fungi colonies', 'flesh flies' and 'major maggot mass'. If you love a drama that's up to its elbows in entrails and blood, then you're in yuck, so to speak.

Top gore scientist Dr Eve Lockhart is, of course, a fugitive from Waking the Dead, the Trevor Eve series that recently shuffled off its television coil. And it's Eve's production company, Projector, that brings us Lockhart's new adventures on the not-so-funny farm.

'Nice crime'
Along with her business partner Mike Phillips, she runs the Body Farm, a research facility where they and their team of two scientists watch human remains as they putrefy. Times are tight – it's the cuts – and so when Lockhart gets a call from DI Craig Hale asking her to help him investigate a pretty horrendous crime scene, it's a chance to get out of the lab and generate some cash for her facility.

The murder scene is in a derelict high-rise that has human remains all over the walls, ceiling and floors. Lockhart's thrilled – 'Should prove pretty interesting,' she purrs. 'Nice crime,' says her partner.

Using all the slick technology at their disposal, Lockhart and her team – Rosa and Oggy making up the quartet – quickly work out that there are two corpses plastered around like wallpaper. The crime turns out to be connected to the attempted suicide of a young woman weeks before.

DCI Banks: Playing with Fire starring Stephen Tompkinson PREVIEW

Stephen Tompkinson is back on the case as DCI Banks. Pics: (C) Left Bank/ITV
Rating: ★★★

ITV1: Part 1 Friday, 16 September, 9pm

Story: Two bodies are found on separate canal narrowboats after a fire. Banks and Cabbot learn it was arson, but the discovery of a stash of money and a very valuable Turner painting make it hard for the detectives to work out a motive for the crime.

Do we really need another police procedural?

You know the format – Murder scene. Forensics. Where were you on the night of…? Det Insp Gruff and Det Sgt Sidekick at loggerheads. Breakthrough. Case solved.

We've already got Inspector George Gently, New Tricks, Scott & Bailey, Vera, Case Sensitive, Lewis and Midsomer Murders bumping into each other in the schedules. That's without the US tsunami of CSIs, NCIS, Rizzoli & Isles, Body of Proof etc. Or Wallander (British and Swedish), or… well, you could go on. 

Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe
You'd think if a channel was going to elbow its way into this crowded crime scene with another procedural, it would come up with something breathtakingly fresh. Instead, we have DCI Banks.

Which is not bad, but it's not dazzling either. Just more of the same.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Rizzoli & Isles series one PREVIEW

Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. Pics: Alibi
Rating ★★★½

Alibi (UK) on Tuesdays, 10pm, from 13 September

Story: Rough meets smooth when homicide cop Jane Rizzoli teams up with medical examiner Dr Maura Isles. Jane is a gutsy lady, Boston's only female murder detective, while Maura is the impeccably dressed but often aloof pathology expert. In the pilot episode, they investigate the murder and kidnapping of a couple that seems to mirror the crimes of serial killer Charles Hoyt. Only trouble is, Hoyt is in prison…

This US police procedural brings us detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles, characters from the novels of best-selling crime novelist Tess Gerritson (namely, The Surgeon and The Apprentice).

The latest new crime show to hit the Alibi channel bills itself as 'gritty', but clearly wants to recapture the magic of Cagney and Lacey. The end result is a weird mix – crimes of torture, murder and rape, with cute wisecracks and fluffy dogs thrown in.

… Isles
Rizzoli &…
Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander
You can see what they're trying to do here, mash up the cop show with the current vogue for pathology gore. Hence cop and doctor. It's difficult in any 50-minute primetime pilot to nail down all the principal characters, and here it is Rizzoli, played by Angie Harmon (best known for Law & Order), who comes across best.