Inspector George Gently – Gently Upside Down PREVIEW

Rating ★★★

BBC1, starts Sunday, 4 September, 8.30pm


Story: The body of a missing schoolgirl is found in woods. As Gently and Bacchus investigate, they are drawn into the burgeoning world of pop and media celebrity

Crime fans on Twitter and elsewhere have still got ruffled feathers over the Beeb’s decision to axe the stylish drama Zen after just one series. Why chop that and not Inspector George Gently, has been a recurring complaint.

The reasoning of BBC1 controller Danny Cohen that there were too many male-dominated cop shows is pretty daft. If anything, Gently‘s leads of Martin Shaw and Lee Ingleby are more hairy than Zen‘s (Rufus Sewell and Caterina Murino).

What’s more likely is that Gently is a settled brand, now in its fourth series, that’s ticking over nicely with overseas sales and an audience of around 5.5 million, it ticks the nostalgia box and presumably it has been cheaper to film in the UK/Ireland than Italy.

Bacchus ‘on a promise’
But while Gently is not bad, it’s not that special either. It is one of many by-the-numbers procedurals that fill the schedules, right down to the gruff detective and his regulation sidekick saying lines such as, ‘Where were you on the night of Friday the 29th?’

Pitch this well-worn template to any channel boss, throw in a nice regional setting (in this case, the North East) and a bit of nostalgia (Swinging Sixties), and it seems you can’t fail to get your cop show commissioned.

The shame is that this plodding formula never allows the plods we see every week to come to life. Apart some a couple of throwaway exchanges at the beginning and end of Gently Upside Down about Bacchus being ‘on a promise’ after work, the detective and sidekick remain crime-solving automatons.

Schoolgirl victim’s affair
At least the 2007 pilot gave Gently some human interest, when he postponed his retirement to track down his wife’s murderer in Northumberland (based on Alan Hunter‘s Inspector Gently novels).

Anyway, this first of two 90-minute films (the second is Goodbye China), sees Gently and his mop-top sidekick investigating the murder of a schoolgirl, Mary. It cleverly uses the explosion in youth and celebrity culture by having a couple of the victim’s friends getting mixed up with the makers of a hit regional pop show. 

Newcomer Kate Bracken – a very good ‘It Girl’
Detective and sidekick think Mary was having an affair with an older man, and proceed to suspect every older man who crosses their path – Mary’s father, the music teacher, the deputy head, the fading, ageing TV presenter. The latter is played by Neil Morrissey, who does a nice turn as a dissolute, lecherous has-been.

The mystery’s resolution is tinged with sadness, and the guest performances are good, particularly Sean Gilder as Mary’s father, and newcomer Kate Bracken as her friend and potential Sixties It Girl, Hazel.

So, a decent episode. But it’s still hard not to miss Zen.

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