|Brooks and Devlin (Pics: (C) ITV Plc/Kudos)
ITV1, Mondays 9pm, from 7 March
When ITV gets its hands on a crime series that looks half decent, boy, do they flog it. This is the fourth series of Law & Order: UK since 2009, while a fifth series of 13 new episodes is already in production.
Happily, this London spin-off from the Dick Wolf’s US franchise is still young, vigorous and delivering punchy stories (adapted from the American episodes).
The opener of this latest six-episode series, Help, centres on the murder of an ex-Premier League footballer, found in a Hackney street with his head caved in. The two detective sergeants, Brooks and Devlin, track down a man called Mike Jones (played by Lorcan Cranitch), who claims to have been helping Robbie Nichols change a flat tire on his luxury car.
|Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman) and Steel (Ben Daniels)|
East End gangster
However, Law & Order’s cases are intriguing because of their ambiguities and ethical dilemmas, and this one gets complicated when Jones claims notorious East End gangster Don Marsh turned up at the crime scene before he left.
The problem for DI Chandler (the excellent Harriet Walter) is that Marsh has friends among the police and has escaped prosecution on occasion before. She orders Brooks and Devlin to work in a secure office and to ‘watch your backs’.
Witness intimidation, false plea bargaining and corruption muddy the case nicely for the legal half of the episode, though whether a prosecutor such as James Steel (Ben Daniels) would really risk the life of a witness to trap a criminal seems a bit too earnest to be convincing.
|DI Chandler (Harriet Walter)|
Junk food and booze
This opener is not as strong or highly charged as the first episode of the last series, Broken, with its parallels to the Bulger case, and the resolution here is uncharacteristically neat and tidy for L&O: UK.
It’s also still a drama where character is less important than plot. We learn little that’s new about our heroes apart from the old news that Brooks likes junk food and was a boozer. At one point Marsh tells him, ‘You put the booze before your daughters.’
But the drama rattles along, the street filming is vivid (this one’s shot on the roads and tower blocks of the East End), and Bradley Walsh as Brooks and Jamie Bamber as Devlin are good as the odd-couple cops – the wise one and the cool one.
Eddie Marsan as the obsessed barrister
The two actors have come different fictional worlds – Walsh from Coronation Street, and Bamber from Battlestar Galactica – but their chemistry is good.
|Devlin (Jamie Bamber)|
While the series continues to feature smart guest actors such as Eddie Marsan, here playing an obsessed defence barrister, it should continue to be worth catching – so long as ITV don’t flog it to death.
To end on a scary note, knowing ITV’s form in cranking out series such as Midsomer Murders and Taggart that stagger on forever like zombies, let’s hope we’re not witnessing the birth of another Series That Would Not Die, with Walsh and Bamber tottering through these roles in 25 years’ time.