Murdoch Mysteries Series 4 PREVIEW

Constable Crabtree (Jonny Harris), Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy), Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) and Insp Brackenreid (Thomas Craig). Pics: Alibi

Rating ★★★

Alibi, Tuesdays, 9pm, from 15 February

The modern-day obsession with gory forensics and series such as CSI and the UK’s Silent Witness is filtered into a late-Victorian makeover for Murdoch Mysteries. The setting is Toronto and William Murdoch, played by Yannick Bisson, is a pioneer in the then new detective sciences, but apart from these features this routine police procedural breaks little new ground.

In fact, it’s so familiar as the type of standard crime show and TV movie mystery you see on Sunday afternoons that, if the lab scenes were toned down a bit, it could have been made any time in the last 40 years. But if you like decent, gentle costume mysteries, then this is a fair cop.

What’s new at the start of series four is that Murdoch’s love interest, pathologist Dr Julia Ogden (Hélène Joy), has cleared off to Buffalo and a new job.

Body hacked to pieces

In spectacularly brusque recap, she tells puppy-dog faced Murdoch, ‘It’s clear to me how much you want a family. But my abortion left me sterile.’ How about that for getting to the point. She’s on the train before gormless Murdoch can summon the words, Don’t go. However, my crystal ball (aka the Alibi website) tells me she will crop up again during this series.

Anyway, there’s no lady action for the detective as the first grisly case of the series comes Murdoch’s way, that of a body hacked to pieces, set in concrete and left by the Don River. Instead, Murdoch has a new male colleague to rub along with – the ill-tempered Dr Francis (Paul Rhys, seen recently in the BBC’s Luther), newly arrived from Scotland Yard.

The new coroner insists the body parts are from one victim. Murdoch secretly sends Dr Ogden some of the evidence, and she says there are three victims and most likely one killer. The victims turn out to be an unknown man with gout, a syphilitic ex-con, and Duncan Burnside, Toronto’s citizen of the year. So, Murdoch must work out what connects them.

Yannick Bisson
Some familiar faces from UK television will appear during this series in addition to Paul Rhys, including Lisa Faulkner (New Street Law) and Simon Williams (Upstairs Downstairs).

It’s a shame that Yannick Bisson as Murdoch is such a blank page, who – à la Roger Moore – tends to express himself with one eyebrow. When you’re acted off the screen by a former Coronation Street regular (another Brit, Thomas Craig, as Murdoch’s boss, Insp Brackenreid), then you know a bit more effort is needed.

Alibi, the crime channel, brags that Murdoch Mysteries ‘continues to push the boundaries of crime television’. You don’t need to be a top detective to spot that this statement would be called perjury in any court.

Still, these mysteries, based on the series of novels by British-born Canadian Maureen Jennings, are fun and the historical setting is interesting. And there is even an added bit of emotional intrigue thrown in. The series finale will include a wedding – but who will be strolling down the aisle?

• Crime Zapper – The Shadow Line, The Killing, Midsomer Murders, Raymond Chandler •

• The Beeb has announced a fine cast for its new conspiracy thriller, The Shadow Line. The seven-part drama will star Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, Endgame), Christopher Eccleston (Lennon Naked, Doctor Who), Sir Antony Sher (The Wolfman, Primo, God on Trial) and Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, Breakfast on Pluto).
It starts with discovery of a body, shot at close range, that turns out to be that of Harvey Wratten, a major UK crime boss. Harvey was just out of jail after serving two years of an 18-year sentence, having obtained a rare Royal pardon. Investigating the death is DI Gabriel (Ejiofor), who has just returned to duty after being shot in a bungled police operation. He now has a bullet lodged in his brain and suffers from amnesia. On the other side is Joseph Bede (Eccleston), a Wratten associate who turns his back on his legit business for one last massive drugs deal. As Gabriel investigates the intrigue gets more complex and all the players’ motivations blur.
The BBC2 series, scheduled for later this year, has been written by Hugo Blix, who says, ‘The Shadow Line is about a murder investigated by both sides of the line – cops and criminals – and the opposing methods they use to solve it. But the real line is the morality within each character and how far they will go before they cross it.’  
Also starring: Rafe Spall (Pete Versus Life, Desperate Romantics, He Kills Coppers), Kierston Wareing (Fish Tank, The Take, Five Daughters), Lesley Sharp (Afterlife, Clocking Off), Sean Gilder (Shameless), Freddie Fox (Worried About the Boy), Malcolm Storry (The Knock), Richard Lintern (The Bank Job), David Schofield (The Take, Pirates of the Caribbean), Stanley Townsend (Zen, Sherlock Holmes) and Eve Best (The King’s Speech, Nurse Jackie). 

• Tucked away on Saturday nights on BBC4 is The Killing, a first class crime series from Denmark. It follows the course of a 20-day murder investigation, and begins with Sarah Lund looking forward to her leaving-do at the Copenhagen police department. She is moving to Sweden with her son and fiancé. However, her plans are shattered when, on her last day, she checks out a missing teenage girl, Nanna Birk Larsen, who is found raped and murdered, and Sarah is forced to head the investigation. It’s a powerfully told story, atmospheric, with strong, believable characters. Sofie Gråbøl as Sarah is a down-to-earth, quietly impressive protagonist and far more realistic than, say, DI Anna Travis in ITV’s Above Suspicion. The whole, terrific series is currently available on BBC iPlayer.

DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes), DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon). (Pic: (C) Bentley Productions)

• So farewell, Tom Barnaby. Having solved more than 200 murders in the crime-ravaged villages on his Midsomer beat, the detective – played, of course, by John Nettles – bowed out on 2 February watched by 7.1m viewers. The 67-year-old actor’s final line was, ‘What now? I’m going to have my cake and eat it.’ Midsomer Murders, a valuable brand overseas for ITV, won’t be laid to rest, though. Tom Barnaby is being replaced by his cousin, John (former Life of Riley actor Neil Dudgeon), who appeared in Nettles’ final two-hour episode. Meanwhile, are Taggart‘s days numbered? It got off to a shocking start on ITV last month, with just 2.6m viewers. Even allowing for the fact that the episode had already been shown in Scotland, that’s not healthy for the UK’s longest-running crime series.

• I enjoyed A Coat, a Hat and a Gun, BBC Radio 4’s documentary about Raymond Chandler, which is accompanying the Philip Marlowe dramatisations this month. One gem in it was a 1958 snippet of a recording of a tipsy Chandler talking to Ian Fleming, an admirer of his, for a BBC programme months before he died. It is apparently the only record of Chandler speaking. He mentions the possibility of Marlowe getting married and the ‘struggle’ he would have to wed a woman who found his profession seedy. Was Chandler being playful? Judge for yourself. The BBC has the whole discussion here.

Mad Dogs PREVIEW

Rating ★★★★★

Sky1, Thursday, 10 February, 9pm
 
Sky TV has targeted February as the month to launch some exciting new shows because the Beeb and ITV are resting on well-worn laurels in the shape of Midsomer Murders, Silent Witness, Taggart and the like.

But in addition to the much hyped stuff from the US on new channel Sky Atlantic – Boardwalk Empire, Blue Bloods etc – is a homemade crime drama on Sky1 that is an unexpected jackpot.

Mad Dogs is simply superb – terrific cast, pitch black humour and an intricate thriller plot that brings to mind classics by Hitchcock and the Coen brothers, with a twist of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre thrown in.

Philip Glenister, John Simm, Marc Warren and Max Beesley
The dream team on screen is a quartet of some of the UK’s best TV performers – Philip Glenister, John Simm, Marc Warren and Max Beesley. Largely playing against the type of roles they’ve made popular recently – in particular, Glenister’s Gene Hunt in Ashes to Ashes and Beesley’s hardman in Survivors – here they are four ordinary middle-aged mates going on a lad’s holiday to Majorca.

They’ve been reunited and invited out to celebrate the retirement of their old sixth-form friend, Alvo (Ben Chaplin), a risk-taking, flash opportunist who has become opulently rich. From the moment the four UK-based chums meet at the airport there’s a little needle in their banter.

But that’s nothing compared to the sledging they get from Alvo. While lavishing hospitality on them at his millionaire’s villa, complete with pool and tennis court, he also picks apart their failed marriages, petty rivalries and stunted careers.

‘How’s the teaching?’ he says to Glenister’s uptight Quinn.

‘Lecturing,’ Quinn sniffs.

And when a tennis ball goes missing, Alvo says, ‘One thing I’m not short of is balls.’

A dead goat in the pool

Ouch. He also needles Baxter (John Simm) about his divorce and giving up the law to sell antiques. It’s biting stuff, but between blokes, all very believable. Writer Cris Cole captures a commonplace sadness in the group. ‘It’s like one minute you’re looking forward to everything,’ Quinn says, ‘the next you’re looking over your shoulder.’

Events turn sinister when a dead goat turns up in Alvo’s pool. Earlier he’s been on the telephone angrily turning down a work proposition. We wonder what kind of retirement this is.

And here comes the Hitchcockian theme. The ‘four herberts’, as Quinn perfectly describes them, are unwittingly drawn into a brutal and bewildering trade in drugs and local corruption.

Alvo seems a bit cracked
When Alvo drags the group for a cruise on a ‘mate’s’ luxury yacht, they have no idea he’s taking revenge on the owner, a spectacularly dangerous criminal, for dumping the goat in his pool.

They’re finally convinced their ‘mate’ is not quite the superstar he seems when he tells them that they’re going to abandon the boat. He seems a ‘bit cracked’ one of them says, while another points out that it’s ‘like we’re his only mates’.

At times laugh out loud funny, switching to sinister and then surreal, this is a terrific, compulsive four-parter from Sky1. The channel has really moved on from its Dream Team days, recently having successes with The Take and Thorne. But Mad Dogs tops those successes.

Cris Cole, whose writing rap sheet includes Bill episodes and a TV movie called The Good Times Are Killing Me, has really burst onto the scene with this rich and nuanced thriller that every major broadcaster apparently bid for.

Watch out for ‘Tiny’ Blair
The characters and the way they interact with each other is the joy of the drama, particularly by episode two when distrust between them rears its head because €3 million falls into their grasp and the police start squeezing them.

The opener finishes bizarrely and brilliantly when a dwarf turns up one evening at the villa in a grotesque Tony Blair mask.

‘It’s Tony Blair,’ one of the friends says.

‘Tiny Blair more like,’ says Rick (Marc Warren).

Seconds later, no one’s laughing.

Don’t miss it.

The Big Sleep, BBC Radio 4

Raymond Chandler’s classic 1939 novel, The Big Sleep, is being dramatised by the Beeb, the opener in Radio 4‘s new series adapting all of the ground-breaking Philip Marlowe adventures this year.

Toby Stephens (BBC)

Toby Stephens will play the insubordinate, loner detective in this story of Marlowe’s entanglement with the rich Sternwood family.

Dramatised by Robin Brooks, the cast also stars: Kelly Burke as Vivien Sternwood; Barbara Barnes as Agnes Lozelle; Madeleine Potter as Mona Mars; Leah Brotherhead as Carmen Sternwood; Sam Dale as Joe Brody; Sean Baker as General Sternwood; Iain Batchelor as Lash Canino; Henry Devas as Eddie Mars; and Jude Akuwudike as Cronjager.

The other plays in this and the next series include: Farewell My Lovely (1940); The High Window (1942); The Lady In The Lake (1943); The Little Sister (1949); The Long Goodbye (1953); and two lesser-known novels, Playback (1958) and Poodle Springs, unfinished at the time of Chandler’s death in 1959.

The second series completing the Classic Chandler collection will be broadcast in the autumn.

Catch The Big Sleep on Radio 4 – Saturday, 5 February, 2.30pm.

Blue Bloods PREVIEW

Tom Selleck as Police Commissioner Frank Reagan (pics: BSkyB)

Rating

Sky Atlantic, from Tuesday, 1 February, 10.30pm

Helping to launch Sky Atlantic alongside Boardwalk Empire is this new series about New York’s finest. Sadly, it’s not one of Sky Atlantic’s finest.

Blue Bloods is a police drama about a family of New York cops (that it is the Big Apple is rammed home with an obvious soundtrack of Empire State of Mind and Sinatra’s New York, New York). In fact, they’re more of a one family police station. Every generation of the Reagans dons the blue uniform.

Donnie Wahlberg as Danny

Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg
There’s Frank (played by former Magnum, PI Tom Selleck), the police commissioner; his father, Henry (Len Cariou), the former police chief; Frank’s eldest son, detective Danny (Donnie Wahlberg); and his youngest, Jamie (Will Estes), the rookie cop. Their dead brother, Joe, was killed on duty.

And keeping law enforcement in the family is sister Linda (Bridget Moynahan), an assistant DA.

The script is clunky, so that the first time we encounter the family, on the sidewalk after Jamie’s passing out ceremony, they more or less announce their job descriptions to us and each other. Then the pilot races ahead with enough dangling plotlines to tie up several soap operas.

Will Estes as the rookie Jamie

The Blue Templars
Does widower Frank have a secret lover? What is the truth about how Joe died? What will happen if Jamie takes up an offer to go undercover in a clandestine police brotherhood of murderers and corrupt officers called the Blue Templars.

And to ensure we’re not bored for a second, Danny is also racing to find a kidnapped nine-year-old girl, letting his cop genes get the better of him by introducing a suspect’s head to a flushing toilet bowl. Naturally, sister Linda is annoyed because her brother’s rough-house tactics mean the lily-livered courts could allow the man to go free on a technicality, despite his obvious guilt. A row at the dinner table ensues and Linda has no support from the uniforms around her.

Happily, at the end she and Danny can smile that a suspect is being shipped to Florida, where they have the death penalty – a pay-off that won’t have many viewers outside of Texas doing high fives. It would be no surprise if Dirty Harry Callahan was an uncredited member of the script team here. 

Filmed on the streets of New York
Much of Sky Atlantic’s programming is dazzling stuff from HBO – The Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Boardwalk Empire. Blue Bloods is standard fare from CBS. It’s good to see Selleck again, commendably acting and looking his age, and the action is shot on New York’s streets, offering a vivid snapshot of the city.

It has been gradually building a following in the US. If the plot overload of the pilot levels out, Blue Bloods should become a dependable, if unspectacular, performer on Atlantic’s late-evening beat.

Boardwalk Empire PREVIEW

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson (pics: BSkyB)

Rating ★★★★★

Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 1 February, 9pm

New channel Sky Atlantic has a real bruiser of a series to get its launch some attention. Boardwalk Empire is gaudy, seductive and, like all sharp gangsters, right on the money.

The opening 90-minutes is particularly flash with the cash (a rumoured $20-odd million). The Martin Scorsese-directed episode is dazzling, a kaleidoscopic swoop through the vice-ridden adult playground that was Atlantic City at the launch of Prohibition.

Epic drama about the Roaring Twenties
This is an epic series with ambitions and themes that dwarf most dramas attempted in Britain or America. It’s about the birth of the gangster myth, about power and portraying that mad, glamorous, anything-goes era in American history, the Roaring Twenties. Crowd scenes, lavish sets, period detail and superb actors and writers make this an offer you can’t refuse.

Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt)

It’s the eve of the Volstead Act coming into effect. Crowds along the seafront of Atlantic City are celebrating – a giant bottle of hooch in a casket is mockingly given a New Orleans-style funeral send-off. The countdown to midnight commences, and the booze ban is celebrated in nightclubs with – what else? – the popping of champagne corks.

We meet Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson – Steve Buscemi in a Golden Globe-winning performance – the town’s treasurer, unofficial ruler, and man pledged to keep the booze flowing regardless.

Meet the boys – Al Capone and Lucky Luciano
Half unscrupulous politician, half gangster, he’s meeting some serious criminals from New York in the shape of Arnold Rothstein (play with menacing authority by Michael Stuhlbarg), Jim Colosimo (Frank Crudele), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), and a nervy novice mobster in Al Capone (British actor Stephen Graham).

Nucky has the backing of his brother and town sheriff, Elias (Shea Whigham), and many ward bosses and local thugs. Another of the entourage is his driver, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), a veteran of the Great War who, having escaped the horrors of France, is determined to cash in big style during peacetime.

Jimmy Darmody and wife Angela (Aleksa Palladino)

The opening episode offers a taste of complications to come for Nucky. Jimmy is dangerously ambitious and, with trigger-happy Al Capone, hijacks Nucky’s booze consignment for New York. The heist goes wrong, four men are killed and New York’s gangsters don’t get their valuable cargo.

Nucky’s personal life is also shifting. We first see him reducing members of a women’s temperance meeting to tears with an anecdote about the evils of booze. One of the audience, Margaret Schroeder (another Brit, Kelly Macdonald), seeks him out and asks if he could find her violent drunk of a husband some work. It’s a fateful encounter for the widower Nucky.

Scorsese’s operatic assassinations
Boardwalk Empire gets so many things right. There are Scorsese’s operatic assassination scenes, the ragtime soundtrack, and the brilliant storytelling. It does what the best US series manage brilliantly and British ones rarely do – inter-weaving complex characters into big historical events.

So Nucky is shrewd, tender, corrupt, humorous, insightful, ruthless and at times reckless. Though Buscemi bears little resemblance to the real Nucky, a grey-haired bear of a man, his performance is irresistible. His face always betrays to the audience the cynicism behind the politician’s lies, and no one enunciates the f-word more emphatically.

If looks could kill – Knucky’s not happy

At one point he questions the choice of a new name that one of his bootleggers has picked for himself. ‘A rose by any other name,’ Nucky says.

‘What does that mean?’ the bootlegger says.

‘Read a fucking book.’

Recreating the crazy age of Prohibition
Terence Winter, the Emmy-winning writer from The Sopranos (which is being re-shown on Sky Atlantic), is the series’ creator. HBO offered him the chance to conjure a drama from a book by Nelson Johnson about the seaside city’s corrupt history. To keep clear of Tony Soprano comparisons, Winter chose the Prohibition era as his subject, and it is a glamorous and wild time to watch.

From boxing contests between dwarfs, to seafront palmistry, the stunt of using the newly-invented baby incubator as a carnival attraction, and onto Eddie Cantor’s vaudeville act – it’s an unforgettable glimpse into the early Twentieth century.   

This series will have you rooting for the characters, wincing at the violence, laughing, and wanting to know more about this period in Atlantic City. TV drama hardly gets much better than this.

• Boardwalk Empire has a fantastic interactive site here.

Best crime shows of 2010

Here’s a look at the top crime series on UK television in 2010. It was the year case files closed on The Bill, which had really lost its way, and Heartbeat, which had never been very exciting in the first place, and when some savvy new detectives made their debuts. But best of all was the retelling of the heartrending story of the victims of the Ipswich murders…

(Pics: BBC, ITV, BSkyB)

1 Five Daughters, BBC
An unusual choice, maybe, but this was the most affecting and unforgettable crime drama of last year. It was a dramatisation about the five women murdered in Ipswich in 2006. It was not about the killer, Steve Wright, or a heroic detective. These were simply young women who had the misfortune to cross the path of a murderer, ordinary people and their families who did not deserve their fate. Made with the assistance of many of the victims’ families, the police and the local drug rehabilitation centre (Iceni, which is now threatened with closure), the women’s stories were emotional and at times frustrating. In so much crime fiction, the victims – usually in a ditch in the opening scene – are just plot points. Here they were loving, caring people whose addictions made them vulnerable. When portrayed this sensitively, the truth is far more poignant and thought-provoking than fiction. Written by Stephen Butchard, starring Sarah Lancashire and Juliet Aubrey.

2 Sherlock, BBC
Updating Sherlock Holmes could have been the turkey of the year – and there were production missteps, with an un-aired pilot – but the end result was inspired, witty and a terrific series of three mysteries. Benedict Cumberbatch was haughty and charismatic as the amateur sleuth, while Martin Freeman was moving but usually exasperated with his new companion. Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson wrote it, Paul McGuigan directed a couple, and David Arnold and Michael Price provided the superb music. The BBC seemed unsure of its potential and scheduled it in the viewing dead zone of July. Will there more stories this year in a better viewing slot following all the acclaim and awards? Elementary.

3 Zen, BBC
Following the success of the beautifully filmed Kenneth Branagh Wallander series, the BBC turned to the same production team to make this radiant three-part series about Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen. The suits, the shades, the cigarettes, the retro music and Alfa Romeos – these three stories certainly had all the gloss. But the mysteries, and Rufus Sewell as Zen, gave the dramas their substance. The intricate plots in which the detective tiptoed through the political and everyday corruption of Italian life were enjoyable and fresh. 

4 Justified, Five USA
For sheer coolness Elmore Leonard’s deputy marshal Raylan Givens was hard to beat. Timothy Olyphant brought something of lawless Deadwood with him as the charming but no-nonsense, shoot-first lawman. Inspired by Leonard’s short story Fire in the Hole, the series was a weekly hour of sassy fun – with Givens’ complicated love life featuring sharp performances from Natalie Zea and Joelle Carter – and series two should be with us in the UK in the second quarter of 2011 (why do we always have to wait so long?).

5 Thorne, Sky1
Author Mark Billingham’s popular detective was stylishly adapted for the small screen by actor David Morrissey (as executive producer and star in the title role) and Sky Television. Sleepyhead was the opener and it was a pretty chilling story, about a sadist who induces a state of living paralysis in his victim, but who has killed while perfecting his technique. Aidan Gillen, a terrific Eddie Marsan and a charming Natascha McElhone gave great support. Following its version of The Take the previous year, this suggested that Sky is slowly maturing into a formidable producer of crime dramas.

Law & Order: UK, ITV
The stories are pinched from the US original, but the UK franchise still made their retelling tight and subtle. And the cast have been very good, with Bradley Walsh and Jamie Bamber as the detectives and Ben Daniels and Freema Agyeman as the legal crusaders – all different but blending together to spark some sensitive stories to life. It’s been recommissioned, and rightly so.

7 Garrow’s Law, BBC
Intelligent and compelling glimpse into the dark legal age of the 18th century, when justice was summary, cruel and largely inflicted on those who were poor. It’s all drawn from the real historic Old Bailey proceedings that are available online, with Andrew Buchan starring as the legal pioneer William Garrow, who basically influenced the way courts worked by instigating cross-examinations and other practices. The stories involved the legal murder of slaves, homosexuality and the cruel treatment of sailors at Greenwich Hospital.

8 Spooks, BBC
A series that still delivers the thrills after eight years. The latest series divided fans owing the contorted character somersault of main heartthrob Lucas North, played by Richard Armitage. It was like discovering that James Bond was actually working for SMERSH. This was hard to swallow, and how the series replaces Armitage will be interesting to see. But as an assured mix of suspense and emotional tension, Spooks still had everyone on the edge of their armchairs.

2011’s brand new TV crime dramas and thrillers

Vera starring Brenda Blethyn (pic: ITV)

Powerful new series are lined up to make 2011 a memorable year for TV crime drama. The breadth and variety of programmes, from the UK and the US, looks terrific. Most of these programmes are in production or finished but not scheduled yet.

The Body Farm
BBC1 has just announced The Body Farm, a spin-off from Waking the Dead, with Tara Fitzgerald reprising her character from the series, Eve Lockhart. This six-parter, made for the Beeb by Waking the Dead actor Trevor Eve’s company, Projector Productions, kicks off with a 90-minute episode. Eve will be working at a private forensics facility that receives human remains for experiment, and assist police forces around the world. Filming starts in the spring.

Page Eight
A powerhouse cast has been signed up by BBC2 for Page Eight, David Hare’s first original screenplay for 20 years. Bill Nighy, Rachel Weisz, Judy Davis, Michael Gambon and Ralph Fiennes will appear in this modern-day espionage drama. Johnny Worricker (Nighy) is a long-serving M15 officer. His boss and best friend, Benedict Baron (Gambon), dies suddenly, leaving behind him an inexplicable file which threatens the stability of the organisation. David Hare, playwright and Oscar nominee, says, ‘The last decade has been as testing as any in the history of the British intelligence community – the compromises and dilemmas they’ve faced in the new century make a fascinating story. I’m thrilled to be working with such an extraordinary ensemble of great actors.’

Boardwalk Empire
Sky Atlantic launches on 1 February, bringing the much anticipated Boardwalk Empire from Sky’s deal with HBO. This 1920s tale of Prohibition Atlantic City is inspired by the real figure of ‘Nucky’ Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a corrupt politician who ruled the town with a mixture of charm and deals with the likes of Al Capone (Stephen Graham) and ‘Lucky’ Luciano (Vincent Piazza). The opening episode apparently cost $20m and was directed by Martin Scorsese. Other highlights include Blue Bloods, a tale about a family of New York cops, and another chance to see the multiple Emmy and Golden Globe-winning The Sopranos.

The Field of Blood
Set in Glasgow, 1982, this BBC crime drama centres on would-be journalist Paddy Meehan, a young copygirl working in a newspaper office. Stuck in an almost exclusively male-dominated world of limited opportunities and cynicism, Paddy dreams of becoming an investigative journalist, and becomes entangled in a dark murder case. Adapted from the Denise Mina novel.

The Reckoning (previously Helter Skelter)
Starring Ashley Jenson and Max Beesley, this ITV thriller has been held over from Christmas and should go out in March. It’s a rather daft premise, about a mum given a life-or-death proposition – she’s been bequeathed £5m, but to receive it she must kill a ‘man who deserves to die’. It just so happens, she has a daughter with a brain tumor who needs an expensive op in America. Could it be better than it sounds?

Exile
A three-part BBC drama with Paul Abbott as an executive producer. It’s the story of a son returning to probe the history of his family, and the digging into a scandal two decades old, whose effects still live on.

Case Histories
Six-part BBC series from acclaimed novelist Kate Atkinson. Private investigator Jackson Brodie, who will be played by Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter, The Patriot), is the complex and compulsive detective surrounded by death, intrigue and misfortune. While his own life is haunted by a family tragedy, he attempts to unravel disparate case histories. The series has been filmed and set in modern Edinburgh.

Stolen
Another one from the Beeb, this single film thriller stars Damian Lewis and is written by Stephen Butchard, who was responsible for last year’s excellent Five Daughters. Lewis plays Detective Inspector Anthony Carter in a story about human trafficking in Britain today, where children are brought here for a better life but end up working illegally outside the system.

Vera
ITV has turned to the novels of Ann Cleeves and her fat detective inspector Vera Stanhope, of whom one character thinks it ‘would take a crane to shift to her’. How Brenda Blethyn has been inflated to fill this role will be interesting to see. Four stories, set in contemporary Northumberland and including Hidden Depths and Telling Tales, have been filmed. Vera is obsessive about her work and lonely, but she doesn’t show it, facing her colleagues with caustic wit and guile. Her trusted and long-suffering colleague is Joe Ashworth, her right hand man and surrogate son.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

An enthralling true story based on the non-fiction best-seller by Kate Summerscale about an infamous murder in a Victorian country house. The two-hour drama from ITV stars Paddy Considine (Red Riding Trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum) in the lead role of Inspector Jonathan Whicher, and has been adapted by Neil McKay (See No Evil: The Moors Murders). Also starring Peter Capaldi (In the Loop, Torchwood, The Thick of It) and Geraldine Somerville (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). Set in 1860, this  story of murder, psychological suspense and courtroom drama begins when three-year-old Saville Kent is found brutally murdered and hidden down a servants’ privy in the grounds of the elegant Road Hill House on the edge of a village on the Wiltshire/Somerset border. Whicher’s career was ruined by this case, but he became the inspiration for the first detective novel, Wilkie Collins’ Moonstone. This really is such a gripping story that something will have to be seriously wrong with the production for it not to be a compelling couple of hours.

Martina Cole’s The Runaway
Set in London’s Soho and New York during the 1960s and 70s, this is about a girl, treated so badly in
care that she runs away, to be befriended by a transvestite. She grows up in the heart of London’s underworld, while her sweetheart is pulled into a life of crime and has to flee to New York. Eventually the pair are drawn together again. Starring Alan Cumming, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, Jack O’Connell and Joanna Vanderham. Coming to Sky 1 in March.

Hit and Miss
This one looks interesting. New channel Sky Atlantic has commissioned an original drama to go with all the HBO gems it has. Hit and Miss is from Paul Abbott’s development company (Abbott, of course, wrote State of Play, Shameless, Touching Evil and others) and is his first foray outside of terrestrial TV. Chloe is a contract killer with a secret – she’s a pre-op transsexual. Her life is complicated when she gets a letter from her ex, Wendy, revealing that she is dying from cancer and that Chloe has a 10-year-old son. Written by Sean Conway, it’s described as high-concept.

Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake
Atmospheric new multi-part drama series announced for BBC Two from Oscar-winning writer/director Jane Campion (The Piano, Sweetie, Portrait of a Lady, In the Cut, Bright Star). Top of the Lake is set in remote, mountainous New Zealand and is a haunting story about our search for happiness in a paradise where honest work is hard to find. A 12-year-old girl stands chest deep in a frozen lake. She is five months pregnant, and she won’t say who the father is, insisting it was ‘no one’. Then she disappears. Robin Griffin, the investigating detective, will find this is the case that tests her to her limits. In the search for the girl she will first have to find herself. Directed by Jane Campion, and written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee. It is a multi-part serial for BBC Two and will film in 2011.

Appropriate Adult
ITV has commissioned this factual drama, focusing on the untold story of how Fred and Rosemary West were brought to justice. It will look at the period between Fred West’s arrest and his suicide on New Year’s Day 1995, and how he confided in Janet Leach who took the role of the ‘appropriate adult’ during his police interviews. ‘Appropriate adults’ are appointed to sit in on police interviews with children or vulnerable adults to safeguard their interests. Dominic West (The Wire, 300) will play Fred West, and Emily Watson (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Gosford Park) takes the role of Janet Leach. The award-winning production team responsible for See No Evil: The Moors Murders, This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, The Murder of Stephen Lawrence and Wall of Silence, will produce the drama written by Neil McKay.

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