Better Call Saul — Killer TV No 28

HERE’S the latest in our series of Killer 50 crime dramas…

AMC, 2015–

‘Let’s just say I know a guy… who knows a guy… who knows another guy.’  – Jimmy McGill aka Saul Goodman

Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Rhea Seehorn, Michael McKean, Michael Mando

Identikit: the Breaking Bad prequel/spinoff following the early years of conman-turned-lawyer Jimmy McGill


logosWHO WOULD have thought writer-producer-director Vince Gilligan could have created a second richly rewarding series when he spun-off this drama from Breaking Bad, following the latter’s finale in 2013? The idea of a new show based on BB‘s shyster lawyer Saul Goodman, a bit of light relief amid Walter White’s mayhem in the original, seemed to promise little more than a diverting sitcom about the scamster’s courtroom shenanigans and chintzy lifestyle. But Better Call Saul actually delivered a whole lot more – thrills, laughs and pathos. Gilligan explored the hinterland of this supporting character and came up with a superb drama in its own right. For starters, Saul Goodman was, you will remember, a name adopted because the guy sensed clients would prefer a Jewish lawyer. We find out how he went from being Jimmy McGill, or conman ‘Slippin’ Jimmy’ of Cicero, Illinois, to a qualified lawyer in Albuquerque, eventually handling Walter and Jesse Pinkman. This is all set in 2002, six years before BB. Along the way are frightening moments as we renew acquaintances with nutters such as Tuco (Michael Mando), find out that Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonanthan Banks returns to the role) had his reasons, and meet Jimmy’s mentor and brother, Chuck McGill (Michael McKean). This relationship is the emotional heart of the story, and it’s a heartbreaker that makes Jimmy’s propensity to break bad himself seem most understandable. Vince Gilligan again shows his eye for the dark and surreal details amid the everyday and conjures up scenes of blinding tension. And at its heart, Bob Odenkirk proves himself a compelling leading actor in a difficult role demanding a performance that switches from slick and funny to vulnerable in quick succession. It was nominated for seven Emmys, and picked up two Critics’ Choice Awards (Bob Odenkirk and Jonathan Banks). It will be returning for a second series in February 2016.

Classic episode: A standout is Five-O (episode 6), which actually focuses on Mike Ehrmantraut, showing him to be a hardcase with a heart, as well as revealing Jonathan Banks’s secret side as a bloody good actor.

Watercooler fact: Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman in BB) was in ‘serious talks’ about an appearance in Better Call Saul, but this all came to nothing.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy — Killer TV No 27

BBC2, 1979

‘I’ve got a story to tell you and it’s all about spies, and if it’s true – and I think it is – you boys are going to need a whole new organisation.’ – Ricki Tarr

Alec Guinness, Michael Jayston, Anthony Bate, George Sewell, Sian Phillips, Patrick Stewart, Hywell Bennett, Ian Bannen, Beryl Reid, Josh Ackland

Identikit: George Smiley, watchful, middle-aged, cuckolded intelligence officer, is asked out of enforced retirement to track down a mole at the heart of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

logosTHE SOMBRE pace makes this dramatisation of John Le Carré’s classic spy story feel a little dated, but the fine cast and multi-layered story definitely draws you in. Humiliated and forced to retire, George Smiley is called back to work because of his outsider status, to dig for a mole at the heart of the British intelligence service. Inspired by Le Carré’s own experience as an intelligence officer, and with a masterclass in understated acting from Guinness – who barely moves or reacts or acts at all – this is a fascinating timepiece of intrigue. Where the 2011 movie was a costume drama, this BBC seven-parter was of the Cold War period, and perfectly captures the drizzly dowdiness of a time when Western and Soviet spies were earnest in this grim tango of loyalty, honour and betrayal. There’s something about this craggy generation of actors playing these oddballs and stuffed shirts that give this series a feel of verisimilitude. Actors just don’t look like this any more. Whether it’s Smiley drying his feet by an electric fire or the gents standing in their three-pieced suits exchanging barbed pleasantries, it looks and feels real. Control sends agent Jim Prideaux to Czechoslovakia to get the name of a high-ranking mole in the Circus, the top echelon of British intelligence. Control gives the top five men, one of whom is the traitor, codenames according to the nursery rhyme – George Smiley’s is Beggar Man. Tinker-Tailor-DVD239Control instructs Jim to simply give him the code name of the ‘maggot’ in the Circus. It’s a trap, and Control and his deputy, Smiley, are forced to retire. Smiley is asked back to investigate without his successors at the Circus knowing what he is up to. The scenes are droll, smart and very wordy, but if you get into its groove it is a rich story, full of trickery, personal agendas and grim loyalties. ‘Every one has a loyalty somewhere,’ says Smiley at one point, but they’re rarely lodged where you expect them. It was a huge critical success, won Baftas, including one for Alec Guinness. Smiley’s People followed in 1982.

Classic episode: In episode four there is a flashback during which Smiley meets Mr Guestman – actually his arch-rival Karla – in 1941, when the British had him in irons in a Delhi jail. It’s a fine scene between Patrick Stewart and Alec Guinness, during which Karla doesn’t say a word, but we sense it is the Soviet agent – facing a firing squad back home – who still outmanoeuvres the Brit trying to turn him.

Theme music: End credit music was Nunc dimittis by Geoffrey Burgon.

Sequel: Smiley’s People, 1982

Watercooler fact: Before filming, Alec Guinness, who based many of his performances on the observation of real people, asked John Le Carré to introduce him to a real spy. The author took him to lunch with Sir Maurice Oldfield, the former Chief of British Intelligence.

Prey 2, ITV, Philip Glenister


Backs against the wall: Philip Glenister and MyAnna Buring

An adrenalin-fuelled chase story with thrills, cliffhangers and good characters

★★★★ ITV, Wednesday, 9 December, 9pm

PREY IS ON THE run again – this time with a new cast and storyline. If you suffer from palpitations, it’s probably best to give it a miss.

We’re immediately pitched into a mad night-time dash through the countryside, with Philip Glenister handcuffed to MyAnna Burning pursued by police and slavering dogs.

It’s a modern take on Alfred Hitchcock’s chase thrillers such as The 39 Steps and North by Northwest. The difference here being that there is no hint of romance between Glenister’s prison officer David Murdoch and Buring’s prisoner, Jules Hope.

It is while Murdoch is escorting Hope to the hospital that he discovers her brother has kidnapped his pregnant daughter, Lucy (Sammy Winward), and is holding her hostage until Murdoch can deliver Jules to him.


In the dark: DS Susan Reinhardt (Rosie Cavaliero)

Hot on their heels is DS Susan Reinhardt, who is under pressure in her personal and professional lives, and played beautifully by Rosie Cavaliero. Reinhardt was in the first series of Prey, which also starred John Simm. This time she has a new boss – DCI Mike Ward (Ralph Ineson) – to contend with while also finding herself torn between a marriage proposal and career move.

Philip Glenister as Murdoch

And this is what makes Prey 2 such an effective thriller. While writer and creator Chris Lunt rarely lets the pace drop, he also doesn’t neglect to develop the characters so that we actually care about their plights.

Murdoch is a widower, an average bloke who is rehearsing for an amateur musical production in his spare time. When Lucy is snatched he is thrust into a nightmare and faces the painful dilemma of whether to tell the police or go on the run.

This three-parter is packed with good performances and finishes on a real cliffhanger. Viewers who get that far will probably find it impossible not to hunt down the second instalment.

Luther 4, BBC1, with Idris Elba

Luther series 4, Idris Elba

On the edge: DCI John Luther (Idris Elba)

An abominable serial killer is hunted by Luther, who’s still haunted by Alice

★★★ BBC1, day and time to be announced

LUTHER IS BACK, and the new series is as nutty and nasty as ever.

A drama about a genius detective who is daft enough to fall for a genius female psychopath is always going to be a believability-stretcher, but Luther has nevertheless gained a cult-like status. Series one even got 94 percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes, today’s final word in critical assessment.

Idris Elba is undoubtedly the key ingredient to its attraction. The actor has enough charisma and conviction to sweep fans along and make the bonkers stories seem almost rational. The other standout feature is the distinctively creepy London atmosphere it creates.

But Neil Cross‘s series is gratuitously nasty. We have a terrified woman being slashed by a lunatic within the first few minutes of this two-parter’s opening episode. Naked blood-spattered corpses, a ‘Bedlamite’ killer who is a devotee of ‘cannibal erotica’ and eats body parts, in addition to a character nailed to a table combine to push the series to the limits of what is acceptable on BBC1.

Rose Leslie and Darren Boyd

Anyway, we find Luther on leave of absence as the action begins, living in a rundown cottage virtually on top of the White Cliffs of Dover. Detectives Emma Lane and Theo Bloom, played by Darren Boyd (Fortitude) and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones), visit him with news of Alice Morgan’s death after she has some escapades in Berlin, Madrid and Antwerp.

Luther, BBC1, DCI Theo Bloom (DARREN BOYD), DS Emma Lane (ROSE LESLIE) - (C) BBC

This case stinks: DCI Theo Bloom (Darrren Boyd) and DS Emma Lane (Rose Leslie)

We last saw fiendishly illusive killer Alice – the series’ other major-league presence in Ruth Wilson – at the end of series three, when Luther had needed her help in clearing himself of a murder charge. The big tease is, is she really dead? Luther can’t believe anyone could have got the better of her, and it would certainly set the story alight if she returns. [Read more…]

The Bridge 3, BBC4, with Sofia Helin

Programme Name: The Bridge - TX: n/a - Episode: The Bridge - series 3 (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Saga Norén (SOFIA HELIN) - (C) Carolina Romare - Photographer: Carolina Romare

Bridge over troubled water: Saga faces a personal crisis

Saga Noren returns – without Martin Rohde – in a typically strange, chilling new investigation


BBC4, date and time to be announced

SERIES 2 finished on a shattering note with the arrest for murder of one of The Bridge‘s two principles, Martin Rohde. Together with his detective partner Saga Noren, the characters had defined one of the most original and popular of the new wave of Nordic noir series.

Now series 3 is here, but Martin is not. Kim Bodnia, the lugubrious actor who had played straight man to Sofia Helin’s Asperger’s detective, did not like the direction the show’s writers wanted to take Martin, so he left.

Like Laurel without Hardy, or Lennon without McCartney, there is no doubt the show’s chemistry is upset. However, The Bridge is largely Saga’s story and on first glimpse of the new series I would say there is a good chance that the writers could be about to take her in intriguing new directions.

We meet her again as she about to be plunged into another weird and chilling new case. A Danish woman, a campaigner for lesbian and gay rights, is found murdered in a grotesque tableau with a group of mannequins, all having lurid smiles lipsticked onto their faces. Because she has been discovered in Malmo, Sweden, Saga is called in, once again partnered with a detective from Denmark.

So far, so familiar. But there is needle in the relationship, as Saga’s new sidekick resents her as the woman who is responsible for getting Martin imprisoned. And then Saga’s robot-like mask cracks a little when her boss, Hans Petterson, asks why she never mentions Martin, to whom she had grown close despite their initially awkward relationship.

She replies that she will visit him, but only when he is released in nine-and-a-half years. ‘I can’t associate with murderers’ – which is as close as she’s ever going to get to saying that she misses him badly.

The opening episode ends explosively for Saga

With her new partner, Saga investigates Morten Anker, the alienated and volatile son of the victim, who suffers from post-traumatic stress after serving in Afghanistan. As Saga and her partner close in, the opening episode ends explosively, and we see our heroine plunged into a personal crisis like none we’ve ever seen her in before.

Bridge fans will no doubt be disappointed that Kim Bodnia has departed, but by the end of the episode they will probably be hanging on to see what happens next.

Creator and writer Hans Rosenfeldt has a genius for coming up with twisted killers and he’s done it again. It will be fascinating to see what he does with his next thriller, Marcella, which has been commissioned by ITV, set in London and stars Anna Friel.

Check out…

Sofia Helin on the new series

Kim Bodnia leaves The Bridge

The Last Panthers, Sky Atlantic, Samantha Morton

Tahar Rahim as Khalil

Panther hunter – Tahar Rahim as Khalil

A gritty, riveting Euro-drama with a blockbuster cast and superb writing, direction and production 

★★★★½ Sky Atlantic, Thursday, 12 November, 9pm

WHILE we Brits prepare for the referendum to decide whether to go it alone outside of the EU, Sky Atlantic has embraced the Continent with this bold and ambitious Euro co-production.

It’s a big, complex tale about the real-life Pink Panthers gang of jewel thieves, the Balkan-based network of ex-servicemen and criminals who carried audacious and spectacular gem raids throughout Europe. At the same time, it offers a glimpse of the pan-European crime scene and the fallout from the breakdowns of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

It’s also a far more sophisticated drama than mainstream whodunits of the sort set around Oxford and Midsomer. And finally, with a terrific script and direction, knockout cast and title music from David Bowie, it must be the best series Sky has ever made.

The Pink Panthers hit Marseille

First, the story. Episode one kicks off with a heart-pounding heist in a marble-clad jewellery store in Marseille. This is being carried out by members of the spectacularly successful gang dubbed the Pink Panthers by the media.

The Last Panthers, Sky Atlantic

Samantha Morton as Naomi

However, as Milan Novak (Goran Bogdan) and his team flee the scene, the robbery goes badly wrong and an innocent girl is shot dead. English insurance company loss adjustor Naomi (Samantha Morton) is ordered to Belgrade, where the gang has its base, by her boss Tom (John Hurt) to recover the gems.

While her involvement annoys French detective Khalil (Tahar Rahim), Naomi’s return to the Balkans revives bad memories of her time in the military when she served there on behalf of the UN during the mid-90s conflict.

[Read more…]

Cuffs, BBC1, Ashley Walters, Amanda Abbington

Cuffs – PC Jake Vickers (JACOB IFAN), PC Ryan Draper (ASHLEY WALTERS), PC Lino Moretti (ALEX CARTER), PC Donna Prager (ELEANOR MATSUURA)

Cop this – PC Jake Vickers (Jacob Ifan), PC Ryan Draper (Ashley Walters), PC Lino Moretti (Alex Carter), PC Donna Prager (Eleanor Matsuura)

Pounding an action-packed beat in Brighton, Cuffs looks set to apprehend a significant 8pm audience for BBC1

★★★½ BBC1, starts Wednesday, 28 October, 8pm

ON FIRST appearances there isn’t anything startlingly new about Cuffs. In its depiction of life on the beat for coppers it recalls a line of popular dramas from Z Cars to The BillIf Cuffs is going to be a hit, it will no doubt have to hook viewers by having terrific stories and characters within this familiar format.

Cuffs – Misha Baig (Bhavna Limbachia), faces a robber (RAY DE HAAN) - (C) Tiger Aspect

Confrontation – Misha Baig (Bhavna Limbachia) faces a robber (Rey de Haan)

With writer Julie Gearey onboard – who also brought us Prisoners’ Wives and Secret Diary of a Call Girl – it certainly looks capable of becoming a crowd-puller. While Prisoners’ Wives did not create a sensation like Broadchurch did, it was a gripping series with compelling characters and no doubt convinced the Beeb that Gearey was the woman to bring us Cuffs.

 It also has an eye-catching cast, including Ashley Walters (Top Boy) Peter Sullivan (The Borgias), Amanda Abbington (Sherlock), Shaun Dooley (The Game), Paul Ready (Utopia), Eleanor Matsuura (Utopia) and Alex Carter (Hollyoaks, Emmerdale). Cuffs also introduces Jacob Ifan in his first leading television role.

Jacob Ifan and Ashley Walters

Ifan plays PC Jake Vickers, son of Chief Superintendent Robert Vickers. He is also a total rookie and it is his first day on the job under the mentorship of seasoned constable Ryan Draper (Ashley Walter). This forms the central story of the pilot episode of this eight-part series.

So, the story is instantly ripe with conflict and drama. Ryan doesn’t like the boss’s son, the boss’s son initially seems hopeless at his job, and just in case that isn’t enough, Jake is also gay, with eyes for a slick defence solicitor he spots at the nick.

This is a pretty similar to the setup to the one we saw in the superb US series Southland, which took us onto the mean streets of LA in the company of a hard-bitten cop and his rookie. [Read more…]

The Frankenstein Chronicles, ITV Encore, Sean Bean

From Rainmark Films The Frankenstein Chronicles on ITV Encore Pictured: Sean Bean as John Marlott in the new six part series The Frankenstein Chronicles. This photograph is (C) Rainmark Films and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or event mentioned above or ITV plc.

Gruesome task: Sean Bean as Inspector John Marlott

Georgian London is brought thrillingly to life as Sean Bean hunts a ghastly foe

★★★★ ITV Encore, day and date to be announced

VISITORS, don’t worry – CrimeTimePreview hasn’t capriciously decided to cover gothic horror dramas on a whim. This atmospheric and fascinating telling of the Frankenstein tale is actually a monster-mash of the crime and horror genres.

And why not? Everyone from Andy Warhol to Mel Brooks has dabbled with Mary Shelley’s creature, and here director/writer Benjamin Ross and writer Barry Langford have crafted an intriguing journey into the darker recesses of Georgian England.

With Sean Bean heading a cast that includes Anna Maxwell Martin as Shelley and Steven Berkoff as William Blake, it’s a six-parter that rises above your average shock fest or cop procedural. With its well-worked background themes of bodysnatching and abandoned children, the writers have stitched together a story with heart as well as a brain.

Sean Bean is terrific as the investigator Marlott

The year is 1827 and the setting is switched from Switzerland to London. Bean’s Inspector John Marlott is working undercover on the Thames trying to catch opium smugglers when his men discover an ‘abomination’ in the muddy foreshore – a body made from the pieces of eight children.

Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel (Tom Ward) is none too delighted when Marlott brings the ‘object’ to the attention of the authorities. The politician fears it is the fiendish work of opponents of the Anatomy Act, which aims to regulate the practice of surgery and remove the barbers and bodysnatchers that give it a bad name. He wants Marlott to expose the perpetrator of this heinous crime, telling him that ‘details of your investigation must remain confidential’.

[Read more…]