Sunday, 29 April 2012

Awake starring Jason Isaacs PREVIEW

Dead reckoning for Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs). Pics:BSkyB
Rating: ★★★½

Sky Atlantic: starts Friday, 4 May, 10pm

Story: Detective Michael Britten is driving with his wife and son in the car when they plunge into a ravine. He survives the smash, but finds himself living in two separate realities, with his wife alive in one existence, and his 15-year-old son in the other.

Awake is a crime drama mash-up with The Twilight Zone. Jason Isaacs, one of the new breed of Brits successfully hoovering up leading roles on both sides of the Atlantic, plays detective Michael Britten, who, following a fatal car smash in which he is the driver and his wife and son are the passengers, finds himself caught between parallel existences.

In one life, his wife is with him; and in the other, it is his son who survived. He wears differently coloured wristbands so that he can tell which reality he has woken up in each morning. In both, he has the grief of his surviving family member to cope with, but the irony is that he has time with each, so his own grief is diluted.

Hannah, Michael and Rex
The story uses the clever device of having Britten talk to a different psychiatrist in each life. 'You don't know whether you're awake or asleep,' says one of the shrinks. Both think Britten is fantasising about his dead family member as a coping mechanism against his grief.

Dual life gives Britten the edge as an investigator
The irony is, of course, that Britten does not want to 'wake up', because that would mean losing his wife or son. 'I've got no desire to make progress,' he says.

Further problems confront him. Wife Hannah wants to move to get away from their son's empty room, while his son, Rex, is withdrawn and uncommunicative after losing his mother.

This being a mainstream drama from NBC in the US, it is standard practice in such pilot shows to pack in as many dramatic dilemmas as possible to keep folk hooked. So, Britten has the additional conundrum of noticing connections between cases he is investigating in each parallel life.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Doors Open, The Killing becomes a novel, Hunted, Spies of Warsaw

• News of interesting new dramas has been coming in almost daily announcements. Here's the poster for Hunted (formerly Nemesis), BBC1's new spy thriller series that was being touted at the MIPTV industry gathering in Cannes last week. This was commissioned just as Spooks was decommissioned last year, and it has some interesting operatives working on it. Frank Spotnitz, the guy who wrote around 50 episodes of The X Files, has scripted it, and Melissa George, the Aussie actress seen recently in The Slap, is the star. Here's the synopsis: 'This is the story of a spy with a bull's eye on her back, a human target unable to trust anyone at any time, even the man she loves. She is running for her life.' The Beeb has also lined up another espionage yarn, The Spies of Warsaw, based on Alan Furst's best-seller and starring former Time Lord David Tennant. Script is by those old likely lads Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. BBC bosses say it will be 'thrilling and insightful' and offer a 'very different take on the Second World War.'

• I've interviewed British author David Hewson over on the Huffington Post UK about his new novelisation of The Killing. It's a big book, intricate, with a new twist to the story at the end. 'This was not a standard TV tie-in,' he told me. 'It is different in significant ways.' The book will be launched at CrimeFest in Bristol next month. Read all about it here.

• Meanwhile, ITV has put Doors Open into production – an art heist story based on a novel by one of Britain's best writers, Rebus creator Ian Rankin. An interesting cast includes Stephen Fry as the art expert Prof Gissing and Dougie Henshall as the rich guy who decides to rip-off a bank's private art collection. ITV are also just about to start filming The Bletchley Circle, about a former wartime code-breaker who believes she has spotted a pattern in the murders of two women. This stars Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling, Sophie Rundle and Julie Graham.

• At Home with Noonans is a slice of real gang life. It is investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre's follow-up to his award-winning documentary A Very British Gangster. The new eye-opening series, on the Crime & Investigation Network (Sundays, 10pm), follows key members of the family and associates. Filmed over ten years, it's a close-up look at a family in a community ravaged by crime, meeting a variety of characters along the way – call girls, hit men, doormen, rioters, priests, cage fighters, Irish republicans, actors and rappers. It has some extraordinary moments.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Braquo series 2 PREVIEW

Walter draws first, asks questions later. Pics: FXUK
Rating: ★★★★

FX UK: from Sunday, 29 April, 10pm

Story: Caplan is put on remand, Morlighem and Roxanne are reassigned to junior posts and Théo Vachewski is forced to kiss his badge goodbye...for good! But then Marceau calls on Caplan in his prison cell and offers him a deal.

Braquo is very dark and a little demented. The cops here do not just cross the line, they throw themselves into the abyss. They play dirty, take drugs, smoke a lot, rarely shave, inflict violence, and have disastrous personal lives. Midsomer Murders it ain't.

In series one, our rogue 'heroes' – leader Eddy Caplan, Walter Morlighem, Roxane Delgado and Théo 
Vachewski – set out to clear the reputation of their boss, Max, who committed suicide after being accused of sexually abusing a rape suspect that he also blinded in one eye.
Men and woman in black – Walter, Théo, Eddy and Roxane

Eddy's crew are in disgrace
They ruffled a lot of powerful feathers and as series two beings the quartet are in disgrace – Caplan's in jail, Roxane reduced to reception duty, Morlighem is on garage duty and Vachewski is out of the force. Meanwhile, in the Paris suburbs four men kill 12 people in a heist that sees them escape with 400 kilos of gold.

These gangsters are former mercenaries from Africa who are hellbent on getting revenge against those who have betrayed them. Their target seems to include a general who meets Captain Gabriel Marceau of the Organised Crime Squad. Marceau's been questioning one of the gangsters, whom the cops have nabbed during a murder.

Macho and murky
It's a suitably murky story, with lots of macho staring and swearing – and that's just between les flics. So when Marceau visits Caplan to offer a deal – release in exchange for help in infiltrating the mercenaries – they come to an agreement with a lot of snarling and sneering.

The Colonel (right)
Braquo is over the top in so many ways – when was the last time there was a bloodbath on the Paris streets involving assualt rifles and Uzis? – but its bleak depiction of cops on the frontline with the criminal underworld is more intriguing than the bland goodies so many British dramas offer us.

It was created by Olivier Marchal, the actor, director, screenwriter and former policeman, and has all the production quality of a cinema film. And the cast – Jean-Hughes Anglade (Eddy), Nicolas Duvauchelle (Théo), Joseph Malerba (Walter) and Karole Rocher (Roxane) – are a fine blend of charisma and desperation.

If you don't give a Gallic shrug for Midsomer Murders or Marple, Braquo will sort you out.


Sunday, 15 April 2012

Vera series 2 with Brenda Blethyn PREVIEW

Brenda Blethyn as Vera. Pics: ITV
Rating: ★★★½

ITV1: Sunday, 22 April, 8pm

Story: Vera is reunited briefly and tragically with her first sergeant and mentor, Stuart Macken. Now a shadow of the man Vera once knew, Macken has been burned when his house was petrol-bombed, and his daughter badly injured. Vera sets out to discover who had a grudge against her old friend, turning initially to Brian, the new husband of Macken's ex-wife and now stepfather to his daughter…

Unlikely cop Vera – played with pathos and cussedness by Brenda Blethyn – returns for four more two-hour investigations. TV's current quest for strong female leading characters, Vera's quirkiness and the stunning Northumberland setting made last year's debut series a ratings success, averaging 6.5 million viewers.

It's a good, mainstream drama, based on the stories and characters of novelist Ann Cleeves. There's nothing edgy about it, being the detective plus sidekick (DS Joe Ashworth) format that British TV is rooted to.

David Leon is DS Ashworth
What raises Vera above say, Lewis, is that it takes time out from the interminable questioning of suspects to explore Vera Stanhope's existence. She's a pretty sad character – great at her job, but lonely, overweight (hugely so in the books) and partial to a whisky in her solitude.

Vera on edge
Her creator describes her as looking more like a bag lady than a detective, though with her floppy-brimmed hat and big coat she looks quite like Paddington Bear. She likes her colleague Joe (David Leon), but shuns socialising with the happily married sergeant.

A sharp scene in this opener, 'The Ghost Position', occurs when Joe finally corners Vera into joining him and his wife for dinner. Surrounded by all the trappings of companionable family life, Vera is on edge, eventually blurting out that she has lied about getting a clean bill of health from her doctor. She is actually suffering from angina.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Bridge series 1 PREVIEW

Saga (Sofia Helin) and Martin (Kim Bodnia) and the Bridge. Pics: BBC
Rating: ★★★★½

BBC4, starts Saturday, 21 April, 9pm 

Story: The body of a woman is found on Oresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark. An uneasy pairing of detectives from each country, Saga Norén (Sweden) and Martin Rohde (Denmark), must join forces to stop the killer.

Once again it looks as though Nordic TV noir is giving British television honchos a lesson in making drama that is ambitious, multi-storied and suspenseful with this new 10-part Swedish/Danish co-production.

It begins hauntingly on Oresund Bridge, which links the two countries, when the body of a woman is found laid across a line marking the border between them. BBC4 is starting the series with a double bill that introduces cleverly woven storylines centring on a very disfunctional pairing of a female cop from Sweden and a male one from Denmark.

From the opening moments it is captivating and mysterious, with the city nightscapes filmed stunningly to give both international settings an eerie, alienating quality.

Detective Rohde at the scene of the grisly crime
Saga wears leather trousers and drives a Porsche
Oresund Bridge is an impressive modern structure, but when its night-time lights go out for almost a minute we know something bad is about to happen. When they come on again, the body of a woman, a leading politician from Malmo, is discovered.

The two detectives, Saga Norén and Martin Rohde, meet and decide it's a Swedish case. He returns home, but when Saga's team try to move the body they make a shocking and grisly discovery that means the Swedes and Danes have to work together. It's as though the murderer has planned it this way.

Saga is, as one of her colleagues puts it mildly, 'a bit odd'. Blonde, wearing leather trousers and driving a Porsche, she is more like Star Trek's Spock than a Nordic detective. Lacking tact, self-awareness (she constantly strips down to her bra in the office to change her top) or diplomacy, she operates purely on logic.

Who is the moustachioed man?
'She's a bit odd' – Saga
And what a team she makes with Martin. She talks to her Danish colleague as though he were a child. When he says he can't sit in her office because he has just had a vasectomy – though he has just sat in his car to drive over to her – she tells him he makes her uncomfortable. 'Pretend the seat is your car.'

How did the killer dim the bridge's lights? How many victims will there be? And in another storyline, who is the moustachioed man offering a hiding place in the country to a battered wife and her son? The killer? There is a potent mystery to unravel here.

Episode one finishes with a pulsating scene in which an obnoxious journalist is trapped in a boobytrapped car while bomb-disposal experts try to free him.

Finally, the killer delivers a message to Saga and Martin. 'We've got interesting times ahead of us…'

You can say that again.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Cops Shows and Thrillers Online – Lovefilm and Netflix

We're no longer slaves to the TV schedules now that many of us have catch-up TV services and an ever-increasing amount of choice on subscription services such as LoveFilm and Netflix. Here's a quick survey of what's currently available for fans of TV crime shows and thrillers.

Lovefilm Instant – 5000 movies and TV episodes
Available on: internet-enabled TVs, PS3, Xbox 360, computers and iPads
Price: £4.99 a month (introductory offer). 30-day free trial
Check out online: LoveFilm

Overview: Amazon-owned service, familiar to everyone through its DVD postal service, but which now offers Lovefilm Instant. Currently has bigger selection of TV shows than Netflix.


State of Play: the 2003 conspiracy thriller with John Simm and Kelly Macdonald.  
Prime Suspect: various series including the 1991 original smash hit original with Helen Mirren.  
A Touch of Frost: various stories with David Jason.
Cracker: the still much-missed series about profiler Robbie Coltrane, from series one, which went out in 1993.
Inspector Morse: from 1987's very first episode, The Dead of Jericho, starring John Thaw.
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, Return of Sherlock Holmes, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes: the classic ITV series with Jeremy Brett and David Burke. 

Recent/current hits

Hustle: the BBC's first series with Adrian Lester, Marc Warren.  
Appropriate Adult: award-winning drama about Fred West, starring Dominic West and Emily Watson. 
Lewis: various episodes with Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox.
Wallander: the UK (Kenneth Branagh) and Swedish (Krister Henriksson) versions.
Poirot: various episodes with David Suchet.  
Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes: the 1970s and 80s reboot with John Simm, Philip Glenister and Keeley Hawes.
Above Suspicion: a couple of series with Kelly Reilly.  
The Jury: 2011 courtroom drama with Julie Walters.  
Castle: series one about the mystery novelist and the cop with Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. Whitechapel: Jack the Ripper in modern day London with Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis.
Zen: the excellent crime drama set in Rome with Rufus Sewell.  
Spooks: various series, with Rupert Penry-Jones, Hermione Norris and Peter Firth.
Vera: last year's cop drama with Brenda Blethyn.
New Tricks: the Beeb's hugely popular retirees are back on duty, from 2003's series one, with Amanda Redman, Dennis Waterman, James Bolam and Alun Armstrong.


The Prisoner: The Patrick McGoohan original from 1967.
The Saint: with Roger Moore.
Starsky and Hutch: the original from 1975, with David Soul and Paul Michael Glaser. 

Gone and forgotten, but worth a second look?

Family: 2003 mini-series about a crime family, starring Martin Kemp.

Vincent: 2005 private eye series with Ray Winstone.
Blue Murder: the 2003 series with Caroline Quentin.
Serious and Organised: drama from 2003 with Martin Kemp and Danny Dyer.
Diamond Geezer: 2005 prison drama with David Jason.  
Jericho: 2005 period detective drama with Robert Lindsay.  
Messiah: chilling cop drama with Ken Stott from 2001.  
Lincoln Heights: 2007 US police drama with Russell Hornsby. 
Kidnapped: US drama from 2006 about the teenage son of a wealthy New York City family being abducted.
Rose and Maloney: Rose Linden investigates possible miscarriages of justice. From 2002, with Sarah Lancashire.

Netflix – films and TV programmes
Available on: internet-enabled TVs, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, computers, iPhones, iPads, iPod Touch
Price: £5.99 a month. Month-free trial
Check out online Netflix

Overview: This leading global internet subscription service launched in the UK in January 2012. It has 20 million streaming customers in 47 countries.

Dexter: the first three series in the drama about Dexter Morgan, the serial killer who targets other serial killers. Starring Michael C Hall and Jennifer Carpenter.

24: series 1-8 of the Emmy-winning thriller starring Kiefer Sutherland.

Breaking Bad: the first three series of one of the absolute best crime dramas of recent years, starring Bryan Cranston as the chemistry teacher diagnosed with cancer who decides to produce his own high-grade and illegal crystal meth to secure his family's future.

Prison Break: from 2005, it's the tale of a man trying to bust his wrongly imprisoned brother out of jail, starring Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell.