Edge of Darkness — Killer TV No 24

BBC2, 1985

‘Which brings me to your daughter.’ – Pendleton

‘What about her?’ – Craven

‘She was some sort of terrorist, wasn’t she?’ – Pendleton

Bob Peck, Joanne Whalley, Joe Don Baker, Charles Kay, Ian McNeice

Identikit: Detective Ronald Craven investigates the brutal murder of his activist daughter, Emma, and soon finds himself enmeshed in a government/corporate cover-up.


logosALONG WITH State of Play and A Very British Coup (1988 version), Edge of Darkness is the finest political thriller made by British Edge of Darknesstelevision. It is a superbly noirish six-parter that conveyed suspicions about just how sinister the government and corporate powers might be, and perfectly captured the troubled spirit of 1980s. It is a politically charged series, influenced by the 1980s secrecy surrounding the nuclear industry and the divisive mood of the Thatcher era. Detective Ronnie Craven is returning home one rain-soaked night with his daughter Emma, having given her a lift from a student political meeting she was chairing, when a man steps from the bushes, shouts, ‘You bloody murdering bastard,’ and fires both barrels of a shotgun. The blast kills Emma, leaving widower Ronnie now entirely alone in life. As Eric Clapton’s bluesy, mournful guitar highlights the policeman’s desolation, the question remains, was the killer after Ronnie or Emma? Finding a gun and Geiger counter among Emma’s belongings – and that a lock of his daughter’s hair is radioactive – Ronnie heads to London to start snooping. When the mysterious Pendleton (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s assistant) makes contact and suggests Emma was a terrorist, it is clear she was mixed up with dangerous forces. Craven then finds out his daughter was one of six women who broke into a nuclear plant, all of whom are now dead. The plot twists as it gradually unfolds, and Ronnie’s compulsion to find out what happened is emotionally charged by ghostly flashbacks of moments with Emma. The story ends on a bleak but powerful environmental point, Troy Kennedy Martin (Z-Cars, The Italian Job) having written the series in frustration that ‘at the BBC there was no political dimension to their drama whatsoever’, and suspecting it would not be made. These days he would probably be right and such an ambitious drama, argumentative and with an almost mythic dimension – inspired by James Lovelock’s Gaia theory of the Earth as a single living entity, which Craven was fighting for – would not be produced. It is a series that grew out of the Cold War, but was ahead of its time in its fears for the environment. Edge of Darkness was critically acclaimed, Bob Peck’s performance was praised and the series won six Baftas (including best drama series and best actor).

Musical score: Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen

Classic episode: The last episode, entitled Fusion, sees Craven, suffering from radiation poisoning, uncovering the true extent and jeopardy of the nuclear conspiracy. The story reaches a tragic, but poetic ending.

Watercooler fact: Edge of Darkness made Bob Peck, until then best known for his stage roles, into a TV star. He died of cancer aged just 53 in 1994, after having gone on to numerous film and TV roles, including an appearance in Jurassic Park as park gamekeeper Robert Muldoon.

Better Call Saul — Killer TV No 26

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.

Twin Peaks — Killer 50 No 28

It's all about the mystery of Laura Palmer's death – and a lot more

It’s all about the mystery of Laura Palmer’s death – and a lot more


1990-91, ABC

‘I’ll be seeing you in my dreams.’ – Bobby Briggs

‘Not if I see you first.’ – Norma Jennings

Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Madchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Richard Beymer, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn Fenn, Piper Laurie, Sheryl Lee, Joan Chen, Russ Tamblyn

Identikit: FBI agent Dale Cooper investigates the murder of homecoming queen Laura Palmer in the town of Twin Peaks.

logosWE’RE MOVING slowly down the unoccupied corridor of a high school, a disembodied voice is making a solemn, momentous announcement over the PA system – it is the voice of the principal. A huddle of girls listens in dread. We cut to the face of a young man, James Hurley, frozen, staring, like a photo. The voice is announcing the death of 17-year-old pupil Laura Palmer, and this off-kilter sequence from the pilot episode immediately sets the indelible tone for Twin Peaks. The discovery of Laura’s body allows creators Mark Frost and David Lynch to lift the stones in a logging town near the Canadian border and expose all kinds of unsettling desires and actions beneath the veneer of normality. Frost, with his experience writing for Hill Street Blues, perhaps offered the narrative ballast for the artistic vision of Lynch, whose intangible, fascinating films Eraserhead and Blue Velvet had been weird but commercially successful. Theirs was a series – almost unbelievably, it was commissioned by mainstream broadcaster ABC – that upset the conventions of primetime, with its dark characters, disorientating dream sequences and at times logic-defying plot.
twinpeaks1

Audrey (Sherilyn Fenn) and Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan)

Ostensibly it’s a mystery in which FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives in town to investigate Laura’s killing, along with the rape of Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine), but the show was far more radical than any primetime drama. We soon realise we’re watching a stilted, soapy drama that is strangely haunting. Why does the hospital psychiatrist have a hula girl on his tie? Why has Big Ed’s wife got one eye? Who is the Log Lady? The overacting, the twists, the heavy mood music (synthesiser, finger-clicking and brushes, by Angelo Badalamenti), the visual riffs (trees, coffee, owls, cherry pie, ducks, water) all combine to create a tantalising, edgy mood. The series is indeed dream-like, and like a dream it is disconcerting, baffling, but easily recalled afterwards. Season one was a success, while season two disappeared up its own supernatural weirdness and shed viewers, leading to the show’s hasty cancellation. Which upset many fans, and led to Twin Peaks finding its way onto many lists of ‘Shows that were canned prematurely’.
But, while many TV series in the UK and US are so ordinary and flat that they are forgotten in a week, the tone of Twin Peaks, which suggested new possibilities in terms of visual storytelling with a little bit of poetry, would live on in series such as The X-Files and Lost, and particularly The Sopranos (David Chase included significant dream sequences in his series, and called it ‘Twin Peaks in the New Jersey Meadowlands’) and Breaking Bad (Albuquerque is a superbly bland and moody dreamscape, and the show had several surreal visual motifs). If Twin Peaks woke up to a hangover of ratings droop in season two after Laura’s killer was revealed, the show by then had still subverted the rules of TV drama and fired the imagination of future showrunners.

Classic episode: The feature-length pilot is a beautiful image of a lost America. Though set in 1989, it feels like a vision of the 1950s, with lonesome highways running through forests east of Seattle, leather-jacketed biker gangs, roadside diners, check shirts and jeans – the sheriff’s even called Harry Truman. Few TV series have ever had this visual panache.

Theme music: Falling, by Angelo Badalamenti

Watercooler fact: Owing to the tight budget, local girl Sheryl Lee was hired to play the corpse of Laura Palmer. However, while filming scenes of Laura in a home video, David Lynch was struck by her ability in front of camera, and Sheryl became a semi-regular cast member, playing Laura in flashbacks and recurring character Maddy Ferguson. She’s hardly been off the TV since, appearing in LA Doctors, One Tree Hill, Dirty Sexy Money and most recently Perception.

Second water cooler fact: David Lynch and Mark Frost are revisiting Twin Peaks for a third series in 2016. It’s being made by Showtime, and after contractual wrangles, has now been expanded from nine to 18 episodes. Most intriguingly, in series one Agent Cooper had a dream/premonition in which murder victim Laura Palmer told him, ‘I’ll see you in 25 years…’ Well, next year the 25 years is up. Oo-er.

Garrow’s Law — Killer TV No 30

GARROWS-LAW-TALES-FROM-TH-006

BBC, 2009-2012

‘You cannot insult your way to an acquittal!’ John Southouse

‘…The life of Elizabeth Jarvis is at stake, in solemn and polished injustice. I must be a ruffian to get at the truth.’ – William Garrow

Andrew Buchan, Alun Armstrong, Lyndsey Marshal, Rupert Graves, Aidan McArdle, Michael Culkin

Identikit: Legal drama based on the life and pioneering legal career of 18th-century Old Bailey barrister William Garrow.


logosAN INSPIRED idea – to use the forgotten trials of a radical Old Bailey lawyer during the late 1800s (based on digitised trial transcripts at Old Bailey Online) – gave us a fascinating and at times heartrending drama. William Garrow was a genuine maverick, a neglected hero from the archives until series co-creator Tony Marchant spotted his potential for this series. Here was a man who, like Atticus Finch, Horace Rumpole or Perry Mason, stood up for the underdog, except that Garrow really existed. One of the fascinations of this series is that in Garrow’s day the system was heavily tilted against defence counsel. Garrow, played by Andrew Buchan with the quiet fortitude that was once the speciality of James Stewart, defended the poor and desperate at whom other barristers turned up their noses. Moreover, he established the right of defence lawyers to argue the case for defendants and cross-examine prosecution witnesses. Until then, whatever flimsy cross-examination was done came from the judge or jurors. The legal murder of slaves, infanticide, industrial sabotage, rape, homosexuality – Garrow challenged the barbaric contemporary attitudes to these and other issues. The BB228005-GARROW-27S-LAW-IIsubplot of Garrow’s affair with Lady Sarah Hill is heavily fictionalised, but it is the extraordinary legal brutalities of the age, and Garrow’s brilliant victories that helped to liberalise English courtrooms, that stick in the mind. Garrow’s Law ran for three series and was doing well in its primetime slot on Sunday nights – being watched by more than four million viewers when up against the likes of The X Factor and I’m a Celebrity…  – when it abruptly came to an end. Whether this was down to new-broom BBC TV boss Danny Cohen (who notoriously also axed Zen in its early days) or because Tony Marchant didn’t want to write it any more was not clear, but Garrow’s Law was a riveting drama and is sorely missed.
Classic episode: Series 2’s opener dealt with the extraordinary case of 133 slaves thrown overboard from a slave ship when drinking water ran low. Murder was not the charge because the slaves were considered cargo, but the case reached court because of a dispute with the insurance company, which did not want to pay out for the ‘cargo’. Garrow manages, nevertheless, to turn the trial into an indictment of the slave trade.
Watercooler fact: In a murder trial Garrow once questioned a witness who later became extraordinarily famous – Horatio Nelson. Garrow asked whether the accused – who served under Nelson and whom Nelson said was ‘struck with the sun’ and acknowledged that he had himself been ‘out of his senses’ with a ‘hurt brain’ on occasion – was likely to have committed murder. Nelson replied, ‘I should as soon suspect myself, because I am hasty, he is not.’ The case was not featured directly in the series, though the issue of insanity was used in the series 3 opener about John Hadfield, who was accused of attempting to assassinate King George III.

[http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017gcq9#supporting-content

http://www.garrowsociety.org/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00w5c2w

True Detective — Killer TV No 29

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

True Detective Series 1.Episode 05 "The Secret Fate of All Life"..Charles Halford as Reggie Ledoux and Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle..?HomeBoxOffice

Backwoods terror – Charles Halford as Reggie Ledoux and Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle

HBO, 2014-

‘Who’d want to bring life into this meat grinder?’ – Detective Rust Cohle

Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, Tory Kittles

Identikit: We see Detectives Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle investigating the ritualistic murder of a former prostitute in Louisiana – and then discussing the case 17 years later when another body has been found posed in a similar style.


logosDARK AND unsettling, True Detective is a powerful, beautifully acted eight-part drama from HBO. Its A-lister stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson pin the audience to their sofas and play out a troubling story across several time frames, beginning in 1995 when they are teamed up to investigate the murder of a former prostitute in south Louisiana. The crime scene, in a field, is staged like a ritualistic killing, with the victim wearing deer antlers. While the investigation of the grisly crime is engrossing, the drama is really centred on Detective Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson). Cohle suspects the killer has acted before, Hart is not so sure. But the fractiousness in their relationship goes deeper. Cohle has a bleak outlook on life, while Hart is more of an average stressed cop with kids and a wife, to whom he is unfaithful. Cohle is damaged by the death of his own daughter, which led to a reckless time as a narco cop. The 1995 investigation takes them into underbelly of the Bible belt, and is intercut with interviews with the detectives 17 years later, when a similar murder is committed and they are asked to review the case. Detectives Gilbough and Panania are interviewing them now, and Cohle and Hart are talking to a digital camera, documentary style. By this time Cohle has succumbed to his alcoholism and is a long-haired has-been, who hasn’t seen his old partner since 2002. Was he more damaged by the investigation or the road death of his daughter? He was always aloof and unpopular with his cop colleagues, often fell out with Hart, who admired his intelligence but couldn’t stand his pessimism. ‘You don’t choose your parents and you don’t choose your partner,’ Hart tells his modern-day interviewers. But do Gilbough and Panania in 2012 actually suspect Cohle of being involved in the killings? Why did Cohle and Hart fall out irrevocably? And if the case was closed in 1995, how can a similar crime have now been committed 17 years on?

[Read more…]

Columbo — Killer TV No 31

124399

NBC, 1968-78; ABC 1989-2003

‘I called the Commissioner and he said he’d send his very best man.’ – Doris Buckner

‘Is that a fact?’ – Roger Stanford

‘My wife says I’m the second-best. She claims there are 80 men tied for first.’ – Lt Columbo

Peter Falk, with guest stars including Robert Vaughn, Patrick McGoohan, Johnny Cash, Faye Dunaway, Janet Leigh, Johnny Cash, Dick Van Dyke and Billy Connolly

Identikit: Tatty raincoat, chomped cigar and distracted demeanor were all part of Lt Columbo’s camouflage, hiding from slick murderers his Holmesian powers of insight and deduction.


HAILED by no less a mega-brain than Stephen Fry as one of the all-time great cop shows, Columbo turned the whodunit formula on its head because the whodunit was rarely in question. The fun lay in watching self-deprecating, bumbling, crumpled Lt Columbo – the opposite of slick cop action hero – snaring overconfident killers. Columbo’s sting often resided in his ‘Oh, there’s just one more thing’ moments, or his non sequitur remarks during a casual questioning – ‘Gee, you have a wonderful view here’ – all part of the detective’s method of misdirecting and lulling the suspect into underestimating him. In a masterful performance, Peter Falk, who used his own clothes to wear as the shambling cop and improvised his absent-minded fumblings, usually only revealed the steel in Columbo when he was booking the culprit. Therein lay the 0carbiggest mystery in the series. Who was Columbo? Certainly not the clown driving that clapped-out Peugeot 403 that his adversaries assumed he was. His ‘never exactly thin’ wife does not appear, but, assuming he’s not a secret cross-dressing cabaret artist, he seems to be an ordinary Joe who likes pool, cooking, limericks, bowling, Westerns, Italian opera, Strauss waltzes, golf, and football on television – but who also has an extraordinary brain. The character was dreamed up by William Link, who was partly inspired by Porfiry Petrovich in Crime and Punishment and GK Chesterton’s Father Brown, and was further developed in a short story written by Link and Richard Levinson in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Columbo first appeared in a 1960 episode of The Chevy Mystery Show (played by actor Bert Freed). Prescription: Murder, a TV movie starring Falk, went out in 1968 and the show started alternating with McCloud, McMillan & Wife and other whodunits in NBC’s Mystery Movie slot in 1968. His last appearance came in 2003. British crime writer Mark Billingham is another admirer of the series, and said recently: ‘I’m still a big fan of Columbo, which really was revolutionary television. Not just because it was more about the dance of death between Columbo and the perpetrator than simply who did it, but also because of the people who worked on it, such as Spielberg and Jonathan Demme.’ [Guardian 4 8 12]

Classic episode: Death Lends a Hand, one of the early movies from 1971, and starring Robert Culp, Pat Crowley and Ray Milland, this is an episode most admired by hardcore fans. This time the murder is accidental as private eye Culp, hired by powerful publisher Milland to watch his wife (Crowley), tries to blackmail her when he realises she is having an affair. Director Bernard L Kowalski films the post-murder scenes in montage style, the acting is top class and there’s a high-energy jazz score from Gil Melle. By the way, Steven Bochco was story editor.

Watercooler fact: Writer/creators William Link and Richard Levinson suggested in 1968 that the crumpled cop should be played by crooner Bing Crosby. The star apparently felt the commitment to filming would take him away from the golf course too much. Lee J Cobb, the other actor they suggested, had other commitments.

http://www.columbo-site.freeuk.com/

%d bloggers like this: