Justified — Killer TV No 17

Justified, Timothy Olyphant

If you want to get ahead… Timothy Olyphant as Marshal Raylan Givens

We’re now well into the top 20 of CrimeTimePreview’s Killer TV selection of the greatest crime shows ever…

FX, 2010 to 2015

‘I tell you to do one simple thing – refrain from screwing the witness in your own shooting – and you can’t even do that!’ Chief Deputy Art Mullen

Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Natalie Zea, Walton Goggins, Jere Burns, Mykelti Williamson, Margo Martindale, Neal McDonough, Erica Tazel, Joelle Carter

Identikit: Trigger-happy, no-nonsense US Marshal Raylan Givens shoots a Miami mobster, causing him to be reassigned to his childhood home in the coal-mining towns of Harlan County, Kentucky.


logosSo many juicy elements come together in these six series about the polite but never-give-an-inch, Stetson-wearing deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, a maverick inspired by Elmore Leonard’s novels and the short story Fire in the Hole. We first encounter Raylan dispatching his no-nonsense justice in Florida when he shoots a mob hit-man, a justified but controversial killing for which he is reassigned to his native Kentucky. There, during the six seasons the drama lasted he tangles with mean operators – Boyd Crowder, Mags Bennett, Ellstin Limehouse, Robert Quarles – gets his ex-wife, Winona, pregnant, loses her again, and has liaisons, including one with a con-woman who gets away with all Raylan’s money. While great in a tight spot, Raylan is not perfect in other aspects of his life. He is haunted by the bitter relationship with his mean, criminal father, Arlo, and he makes mistakes, providing his exasperated boss, Art Mullen, with plenty of headaches (see the quote above). The series is a long way from the dull cop procedural, featuring great actors, fine stories and a real Bluegrass flavour. If the hero, here in the shape of pretty cool leading man Timothy Olyphant, is only as

Justified, Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant)

Best of enemies: Boyd (Walton Goggins) and Raylan (Timothy Olyphant)

good as the villain, charismatic Walton Goggins (now riding high for his terrific performance in Quentin Tarantino’s Hateful Eight), then Justified got the casting just right. The two characters, who once worked together in the mines, are lifelong pals turned adversaries, and give the series a great deal of its edge. We love their verbal sparring and deadly dance, but almost don’t want Raylan to get the better of Boyd. Justified captures the streetwise dialogue, machismo and romance found in Elmore Leonard’s novels better than many adaptations (any fond memories of The Big Bounce or Stick?). And while it’s never been a big mainstream hit, for viewers who want to dodge the pap of CSI or Hawaii 5-O, this goes down like a jolt of Kentucky bourbon.

Music: Long Hard Times to Come, by Gangstagrass

Classic episode: Bloody Harlan, season 2, episode 13. The finale to the second series was a good old-fashioned bloodbath, but made all the more epic for the comeuppance that meets the incredibly wicked and controlling Mags Bennett. The Crowder and Bennett clans go to war, Winona tells Raylan she’s pregnant, before Raylan is caught and nearly killed by Dickie Bennett. A terrific blend of character development and slick action.

Watercooler fact: Raylan Givens had featured in Elmore Leonard’s novels Pronto and Riding the Rap, along with the short story Fire in the Hole. Leonard’s 2012 novel Raylan came on the back of the TV series’ success.

State of Play — Killer TV No 18

B0007ZD6YK.02._SS400_SCLZZZZZZZ_V1118152570_BBC1, 2003

‘One of my officers was murdered. Don’t piss me about.’ DCI William Bell

David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, Polly Walker, Bill Nighy, Philip Glenister, James McAvoy, Marc Warren

Identikit: When Sonia, a political aide, is killed on the London Tube, a newspaper starts an investigation that will lead to a conspiracy of political corruption and oil industry influence in the government.


logosWhat begins as two apparently unconnected deaths – one that appears drug-related, one of the young researcher of an MP, who falls under a Tube train – spirals into evidence of a conspiracy. As reporters played by Kelly Macdonald and John Simm investigate, they discover that not only was Stephen Collins, MP, the chairman of the energy Select Committee, having an affair with Sonia, his researcher, but that she had received a call from a murdered youth, who was gunned down in the street. Kelvin Stagg had stolen a briefcase and was attempting to sell it back to its owner when he and a passing courier were shot by a hit man. The murder of a detective watching over the recuperating courier rounds off the opening episode of one of the most pacy, exciting thrillers ever to be made for UK television. It was also ahead of its time in depicting the blagging used by our reporter heroes to harvest personal information from hospitals and phone records (years before Hackgate exposed the dirty, non-investigative side of it). David Morrissey is terrific as the unfaithful politician husband in turmoil, whose lover may have had more baggage than he ever imagined. Bill Nighy counterbalances Morrissey’s emotional performance with a razor-sharp turn as the cynical newspaper editor – ‘Either he [Collins] is faking it or he’s nobbing her.’ And he has many of the best lines – ‘Don’t kiss your own arse till you get us a name.’ And a pre-Life on Mars Philip Glenister plays a seriously intimidating detective chief inspector, showing just how powerful he can be in a straight role. His scenes with Nighy’s slippery editor are riveting. Oil industry obfuscation and corruption, human drama, wit, chases and intrigue – thrillingly directed by David Yates, who made several of the Harry Potter films – all go into making this a high point in UK crime drama. Written by one of the UK’s best writers, Paul Abbott (Shameless, Hit & Miss), the six-part thriller had superb dialogue, was politically caustic, and had a superlative British cast, one of the best ever assembled, many of whom have gone on to major successes in the US – Morrissey and Simm being particularly fine.

Sequel: the 2009 movie with Russell Crowe was decent but couldn’t resist Hollywood’s obsession with convoluted twist endings.

Classic episode: Each episode of this six-parter is engrossing, but the final episode ties the drama together brilliantly, with one final, oh-bloody-hell twitst.

Watercooler fact: The BBC wanted a sequel series, but apparently Paul Abbott, after working on a script, couldn’t make the story work. Which may be just as well – sequels rarely match an inspired original.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/stateofplay/

The Bridge — Killer TV No 19

1286078-low_res-the-bridge1

Danmarks Radio/ Sveriges Television, series 1 2011; series 2 2013; series 3 2015

‘She’s Swedish, and the car came from Sweden. I assume I’m in charge.’ – Saga Norén

‘OK.’ – Martin Rohde

Sofia Helin (Saga Noren), Kim Bodnia (Martin Rohde), Dag Malmberg (Hans Pettersson), Lars Simonsen (Jens Hansen)

Identikit: Two detectives – one from Sweden, the other from Denmark – form an uneasy partnership when they must work together to investigate a murder scene right on the border between their two countries on the Oresund Bridge.


logosThe series that gave us the unforgettable Saga Norén, the blonde Swedish detective who has a laser-focus in solving crimes, but all the emotional intelligence of a Vulcan. She seems to be on the autistic scale, so that her idea of chit-chat is to come out with non-sequiturs like this in mixed company: ‘I started my period today.’ Or to ask a man who smiles at her in a nightclub whether he wants to have sex back at her flat. When it comes to breaking the news to a victim’s husband that his wife is dead, Saga has all the delicacy of an elephant on a flowerbed. ‘How many ways are there to say it?’ she asks her boss when he tells her to tread carefully. Saga, with her Porsche and leather trousers, is locked in a captivating partnership with Danish counterpart Martin Rohde, a shambles of an unfaithful husband who operates a lot on instinct, as they try to track down an ingenious, bitter serial killer who has attacked victims from both sides of Oresund Bridge, linking Denmark and Sweden. The investigation begins when what appears to be the body of a female Swedish politician is discovered straddling the national borderline on the bridge. The perpetrator has managed to plunge the bridge into darkness and staged the murder scene, so clearly this is a killer with huge resourcefulness and cunning. In truth, the plot involving the ‘Truth Terrorist’ staging various outrageous crimes to highlight perceived social problems is far-fetched. But, as with the key to many brilliant dramas, it is the principal characters who pull the audience in. Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia are two stars on a roll here, as characters who, despite their epic differences, slowly develop an off-key but somehow harmonious partnership. Across 10 episodes the tension builds slowly but remorselessly and with some stunning twists. And at the end, the killer is a lot closer to home than Saga and Martin – and the viewer – can ever have imagined. So highly regarded was the drama that the formula was immediately pinched by networks in the US and Britain/France, whose remakes are decent tributes, but certainly don’t outshine the original. Series two of the original came back, however, and developed the characters beautifully, with Martin struggling to come to terms with the murder of his son in series one, and Saga attempting to blend into normal society more – all against the backdrop of bio-terrorism crimes and incestuous lust among the rich. It ends with a heartbreaking cliffhanger and the two detectives divided and alone just when it seemed they were more bonded than ever. Sadly, Kim Bodnia did not appear in series three, and Thure Lindhardt stepped in as a new Danish partner, Henrik Sabroe. Next up for Bridge writer Hans Rosenfeldt is a thriller series for ITV called Marcella, starring Anna Friel.

Classic episode: The opener immediately and subtly establishes the character clash between Saga and Martin, while creating an eerie and perplexing mystery on the stunning Oresund Bridge. It is beautifully photographed, creating an alienating nightscape of highways, streets and the bridge.

Southland — Killer TV No 20

Southland Series 5 - Episode 1.Hats and Bats

2009-2013, NBC/TNT

‘I’m hormonal and I’ve got a gun. Don’t mess with me.’ – Detective Lydia Adams

Michael Cudlitz, Shawn Hatosy, Regina King, Benjamin McKenzie, Tom Everett Scott, Lou Diamond Phillips, Lucy Liu

Identikit: A raw look at the lives of the people who police Los Angeles – their rivalries, the risks they take and the toll the job takes on them.


logosWow, what a show. Character drama about the men and women of the LAPD who don’t just solve nasty crimes and deal with social problems on the street, but which also shows that there’s no easy or quiet way to do their job. The grainy vintage police shots used during the show’s opening credits give a flavour of the realistic aim of this captivating portrayal of the officers – some decent, some not – facing muggers, killers and rapists on the streets and in the alleys. Violence mixed with black humour gives a verité feel to a series that recalls the raw novels of former LA cop Joseph Wambaugh. The cast all look the part as the officers and detectives, a nice change from airbrushed mannequins that populate so many mainstream shows. Rookie Ben Sherman (Benjamin McKenzie) is an oddity in that he comes from a wealthy family and joined the LAPD in response to his experiencing as a child his mother being attacked by a drug dealer friend of his father’s. He is trained by the street-savvy veteran John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz), whose homosexuality is hidden from colleagues and is treated obliquely in the drama. Cooper questions whether Sherman has the making of a cop. And there’s detective Lydia Adams (Regina King), a black officer who grew up in the ‘hood and balances police work with living with her mother, and is one of the show’s strongest characters – in one great scene in series one she fights off gang-bangers invading her home in an attempt to kill a girl witness Lydia has taken in. The relationships are intricate and the protagonists flawed and believable. The acting is also passionate at times, such as the moment when Lydia realises at the hospital that her partner Russell (Tom Everett Scott) may not be on duty with her again after he recovers from a shooting – she bursts into tears in the corridor, a scene done in one take. The series, created by former NYPD Blue writer Ann Biderman, moved from NBC to cable network TNT, where, thankfully, it was censored less. A fifth season of what had become one of the finest, most gritty cop shows around aired in 2013. Sadly, that was the last season as viewing dropped to 1.8 million for its fifth series finale on TNT. Southland never had much of a showing in the UK, going out on More4, and was an underrated gem of a series in the US, but for those who caught it, the series was a compelling, unforgettable piece of high-impact drama.

Classic episode: In episode 7, Derailed, Chickie finally turns in her alcoholic partner, Dewey – who, despite his faults, she likes – because she realises he is becoming a dangerous liability. Dewey responds by speeding away in his patrol car with Chickie inside, eventually crashing. A great episode exposing the dilemmas the patrol cops face in their high-pressure work, along with Lydia’s shootout at her home.

Watercooler fact: Southland‘s gritty feel was enhanced by the use of actual and former gang members in the roles of LA gangsters

Broadchurch (series 1) — Killer TV No21

EMBARGOED_UNTIL_18TH_DECEMBER_BROADCHURCH_SERIES2_EP1_06

Cliffhanger: Broadchurch 1

2013-2014, ITV

‘You’re going to stop asking questions about me.’ Susan Wright

‘Why would I do that?’ Maggie Radcliffe

‘I know men who would rape you…’ – Susan Wright

David Tennant, Olivia Colman, Andrew Buchan, Jodie Whittaker, Pauline Quirke, Arthur Darvill, Vicky McClure, David Bradley, Will Mellor, Carolyn Pickles, Matthew Gravelle

Identikit: The investigation of the murder of a boy in a small seaside town in Dorset and the effect it has throughout the community.


BROADCHURCH_EP6_02

Olivia Colman and David Tennant

logosLet’s be clear: series 1 was terrific, while series 2 completely lost the plot. So Broadchurch gets in the Killer 50 on the strength of series 1, and the second outing will be discreetly ignored here (though this was CrimeTimePreview’s verdict at the time). Perhaps the key to Broadchurch 1’s huge success was that it was a project writer Chris Chibnall believed in so much that he wrote it for his own satisfaction, a labour of love, without being commissioned, without executive tinkering, before taking it to ITV. He was inspired by living near Dorset’s Jurassic Coast (it was filmed mainly at West Bay), and wanted to explore the impact of a boy’s murder on a seaside community. The body of Danny Latimer is found on the beach and during the next eight episodes we witness the crime’s emotional reverberations on the family, police, press, businesses and the local church. Where the victim’s place in the world is barely touched on in many cop shows, here Broadchurch perhaps picks up on the huge success of the first series of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) and became a drama with greater depth and characterisation than most series have. It is also, of course, a whodunit that got everyone talking (even journalists were self-righteously outraged when previews of the final episode were not made available to them), so it has the usual red-herrings and coincidences to knock down before the end. But Broadchurch had far more going for it than a mechanical Agatha Christie plot. The family’s agony was portrayed seriously through affecting performances, particularly from Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan as Danny’s parents – an early scene in which Mark identifies his son’s body is heartrending. And what a terrific ensemble cast, with Vicky McClure, Pauline Quirke, Arthur Darvill and Will Mellor among those giving the story great depth and colour. Then there is the dream team of leads in David Tennant and Olivia Colman as the tormented senior detective and local officer who had been expecting to get his job. Broadchurch could be a bit of a game-changer for British crime shows, veering away from the high body counts, forensic fantasies and cardboard characters of Midsomer Murders, Lewis, Silent Witness and the like. A third series will start filming this summer. After the implausibilies of season 2, it will have its work cut to recapture the specialness of the original.

Classic episode: The final episode was full of drama. The murderer is revealed halfway through and writer Chris Chibnall then brilliantly takes time to show how devastating the revelation is for Ellie, the Latimers and Hardy.

Spin-off: The US version, made by Fox, is called Gracepoint and went into production quite soon after the ITV version proved so successful. David Tennant reprised his role – with a change of name from Alec Hardy to Emmett Carver and an American accent – while Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn took Olivia Colman’s part as his police colleague.

Watercooler fact: The cast were not told who the murderer was so that the performance of the actor playing him/her would not be swayed by the knowledge.

Wallander (Swedish) — Killer TV No 22

6151516-low_res-wallander-swedishTV4, 2005-2013

‘Good cops allow themselves to be ground down. The job absorbs them.’ – Kurt Wallander

Krister Henriksson, Mats Bergman, Angela Kovacs, Johanna Sällström, Charlotta Jonsson

Identikit: Kurt Wallander, a police inspector and detective in Ystad, Sweden, balances his harrowing caseload with his troubled private life, including a tempestuous relationship with his daughter, Linda.


logosSWEDISH TELEVISION made 26 episodes of stories adapted from Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels, all of which starred Kirster Henriksson. Where Kenneth Branagh was subdued and thoughtful, bordering on glum, in the BBC version, Henriksson portrayed a more rounded character who, though trapped somewhat  by his police career, could reach out to those close to him. Henriksson is the definitive Wallander to many, but he came to the part only after the bear-like Rolf Lassgård had made a series of Wallander films (1994-2007). But Henriksson’s understated, approachable Wallander is a good balance between Lassgård’s irascible portrayal and Kenneth Branagh’s ultra-glum version. Henriksson’s very first story in the TV series, Before the Frost, saw the detective uncovering a dangerous religious cult headed by a sadistic killer, while also struggling to make up for his failures as a father to his daughter, Linda (Johanna Sällström), newly qualified as a police officer herself. This was an absorbing drama, beautifully mixing the personal stories with an investigation into tragic and horrific events. The two 13-part series openers – The Revenge opened season 2 – were released in cinemas in Sweden and were better than the mid-season episodes, which were less carefully crafted and a bit more predictable. A third and final season (six 90-minute films), featuring Charlotta Jonsson as Linda Wallander, aired in 2013.

Classic episode: Before the Frost was the TV series’ first episode and a compelling mix of tragedy. Kurt is on the trail of a poisonous cult leader, and the detective’s painfully tangled personal life, particularly in his uncomfortable relationship with his daughter, Linda, is to the fore. A gripping debut and definitely one of the best of the 32 episodes.

Watercooler fact: Henning Mankell was so deeply affected by the death of Johanna Sällström, aged 32, who suffered from depression and had narrowly survived the 2004 tsunami in Thailand with her daughter, that he was unable to write the last two novels of a planned trilogy about Linda Wallander.

Wallander (UK) — Killer TV No 23

1495538-low_res-wallanderBBC1, 2008-present

Kurt Wallander holds up his badge – ‘Wallander.’

‘Thought they would have sent a police car. Lights. Flashing.’ – Farmer

‘There was an accident on the Svarte Road. Cars with lights are all taken.’ – Kurt Wallander

Kenneth Branagh, Sarah Smart, Tom Hiddleston, David Warner, Jeany Spark

Identikit: Kurt Wallander, a police inspector and detective in Ystad, Sweden, balances his harrowing caseload with his troubled private life, including tempestuous relationships with his father and daughter.


logosDESPITE THE excellence of the  Swedish version of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels, Kenneth Branagh was eager to try an English-language take on it, and he teamed up with Yellow Bird, Henning Mankell’s own production company for this third version of the character. Trevor Eve, David Morrissey and Clive Owen were all mentioned in connection with the role, but Branagh was a fan of the novels and got the author’s approval. There were cynical media comments before its debut on BBC1 about Brit actors speaking English in the Swedish setting, which entailed mangling place or character names, and of course anglicising Vallander to Wallander with a soft W (producer Simon Moseley thought this wise to avoid the show straying into ‘Ello! ‘Ello! territory). However, once past these incongruities, the series consisted of beautifully produced dramas, filmed on location, and looking terrific, while also offering richly textured stories. Certainly, one of the most visually arresting stories was 2012’s An Event in Autumn, directed by Toby Haynes, who capitalised beautifully on the wintry tone of the short story on which it is based. The director was flattered when Henning Mankell commented [to Barry Forshaw] that his late father-in-law, none other than Ingmar Bergman, might have been impressed. Branagh had a good cast around him too, with Sarah Smart and Tom Hiddleston as his junior colleagues, Saskia Reeves as the woman trying to build a love life with Wallander, and David Warner as his deteriorating father, Povel. The series never came close to achieving an aim stated at the time of the series’ launch of becoming British TV’s new Inspector Morse, but the first stories – Sidetracked, One Step Behind and Firewall – were definitely a cut above most detective shows (personally, I preferred it to Morse, anyway). Branagh was outstanding as the lonely, haunted detective, though the hero’s levels of angst and gloom were becoming monotonous by the time of 2012’s instalments. Hopefully, the character will move on a little for the final fourth series (consisting of The White Lioness and a two-part The Trouble Man), before retiring to rest on its seven (so far) Baftas.

Classic episode: Sidetracked, the very first BBC adaptation mixed a harrowing case (Wallander witnesses a girl setting light to herself) while introducing viewers to the personal angst of the detective (for instance, discovering that his father has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s).

Watercooler fact: Kenneth Branagh is the third actor to play Wallander as well as the third non-Swedish actor to portray famous literary detectives from the country. Walter Matthau played an Americanised version of Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall’s Martin Beck called Jake Martin in The Laughing Policeman, and Derek Jacobi was Martin Beck in Der Mann, der sich in Luft auflöste. Branagh also opted not watch his Swedish predecessors to avoid being swayed by their portrayals.

The Shadow Line — Killer TV No 25

BB240226-2540THE-SHADOW-LINE

Three’s a crowd: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Stephen Rea and Christopher Eccleston

BBC1, 2011

‘With what I see here, you try to find the line [of truth] on something like this, it’ll fur up your arteries so thick you’ll think you’re a fucking werewolf.’ – Sgt Foley on discovering the shot-to-death body of Harvey Wratten

Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Rafe Spall, Lesley Sharp, Antony Sher, Stephen Rea, Kierston Wareing

Identikit: The murder of a drug baron just released from prison sets detectives and criminals on a chase to discover who ordered the hit.


logosATTRACTING SMALL audiences on BBC2, this conspiracy thriller – created, written and directed by Hugo Blick – nevertheless stood out as one of the most distinctive dramas of 2011. It opened with two uniform cops at the scene of a shooting, the victim being a criminal slumped in a car on a dark night. Dishonest sergeant Foley lingers over the corpse, preparing to inform one of his gangland associates before his own detectives. Moodily shot, with long scenes and a fixation on verbal tension and wordplay, this was a superb drama with mesmerising performances from the likes of Antony Sher, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston and an unforgettable Stephen Rea as the chilling manipulator and mystery man Gatehouse. Blick made his name with comedies such as Marion and Geoff and Roger and Val Have Just Got In, but The Shadow Line was a brilliantly realised change of pace. Big-time drug smuggler Harvey Wratten ends up with two bullets in his head soon after his release from prison, and DI Gabriel (Ejiofor), recently recovered from a bullet to the head himself, is called in to investigate. He is plunged into a murky case where he can barely differentiate the goodies from the corrupt, is not even entirely sure whether he was corrupt himself before the bullet in his head disrupted his memories. The only reason he’s still alive, he is repeatedly told, is that he cannot remember certain things. Ejiofor’s riveting performance is accompanied by some great turns from the amazing Rea and the likes of Rafe Spall as Wratten’s psychotic nephew, Kierston Wareing as Gabriel’s mouthy colleague, and Antony Sher as the super secretive Glickman, one-time partner of Wratten’s, now on the run. The Shadow Line took the motifs of the cop drama, such as the opening scene in which a body is usually discovered, and invested them with depths of menace and metaphysical conflict. The series got a mixed critical response after its opening episode from reviewers unused to its dense noir style, but by its conclusion it was praised. Towards the end of its seven-episode run, it veered a little into convoluted and unbelievable terrain, but overall it was a superbly dark and original piece of storytelling.

Classic episode: Episode five is a stormer, as Gatehouse finally locates Glickman in Ireland, where this lethal operator is posing as a cuddly clock seller. Gatehouse has already been shown to be a remorseless and dismayingly efficient killer, so we expect these to be Glickman’s last moments. But when Glickman turns the tables by blowing up his shop, the story again stuns us and spins in a new direction…

Music: Pause by Emily Barker

Watercooler fact: The method of drug smuggling mentioned in the series – drugs hidden in crates of blooms from Holland – was based on a real case (the Flowers Gang).

%d bloggers like this: