Vera is back, with a new sergeant in tow, Aiden Healy, who has his work cut out earning his boss’s respect
★★★ ITV, starts Sunday, 5 April, 8pm
VERA HAS since 2011 become a solid performer for ITV. It does not earn the plaudits or fuss in the papers of series such as Broadchurch or The Fall, but its beautiful setting and popular lead star in Brenda Blethyn has made it a mainstream success.
Changing Tides is the first of four new two-hour mysteries in this fifth season (the sixth starts shooting in June).
DCI Stanhope is investigating a suspicious fire that has destroyed three caravans at a holiday park, killing a woman. The park owner, Jim Viner, suspects the dead woman is his sister, Deena, though he has no idea why she was at the park and not at home.
Ann Cleeves’ novels
Anyone who enjoyed the previous four series of Vera will go for this latest series. It’s pretty much more of the same, but with Kenny Doughty joining the cast as Vera’s new surrogate son, DS Aiden Healy, replacing David Leon’s Jose Ashworth.
This is a like-for-like cast change, maintaining Vera’s grumpy mentor dynamic with a young male deputy. Clearly, the show’s producers don’t want to mess with the series’ formula.
With Ann Cleeves’ popular series of novels, ITV have done what producers often do with successful crime heroes/heroines and ignored much of the interesting character material to focus on plot plot plot. The first half hour of Changing Tides is the traditional opening of detective and sidekick turning up at a crime scene and quizzing witnesses and the pathologist. Without a murder, these characters couldn’t function.
Vera v The Good Wife
In the novels Vera has more depth, a lonely woman haunted by her childhood who can empathise with victims and who is very good at the job she relies to give her life meaning. The TV series glosses over most of this to focus on whodunit, much as ITV’s lacklustre adaptations of the Rebus novels did as well – another compelling character on the page turned into a plot chaser.
Standard ITV dramas such as Vera, Midsomer Murders, Lewis and DCI Banks are stuck in that 1980s police procedural mould. In contrast, top US dramas such as The Good Wife have mastered the multi-stranded narrative with sharp characterisation. Every episode about Alicia Florrick combines a terrific weekly plot with interesting protagonists.
The writing, acting and production values on Vera are very good, but the stories never linger with you beyond the final credits.