CSI series 15, Ted Danson, Elisabeth Shue, George Eads PREVIEW


Ted Danson and Elisabeth Shue in CSI. Pics:C5

★★★ It’s gory and implausible, but why is CSI so popular? JG Ballard thought it was all about our innermost fears…

Channel 5: starts Saturday, 24 January, 10.15pm

WHAT A WEIRD and unsettling series CSI is. A house of horrors for the TV age, delving into nightmares of mortality with detachment and a throbbing rock beat.

Watching the opening episode of the 15th series, I was reminded of a typically provocative feature that JG Ballard wrote about the series 10 years ago in The Guardian. He became hooked on it and stated: ‘The series was original, slick and deeply disturbing, though I wasn’t too keen to find out why.’

But then he goes right ahead and dissects the drama anyway (excuse the pun). As a former medical student with experience in the exploration of corpses before he went on to write unsettling masterpieces such as Crash, The Unlimited Dream Company and High-Rise, his insights were intriguing.

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Suspects 2, Ch5, with Fay Ripley, Damien Molony, Clare-Hope Ashitey PREVIEW

DS Jack Weston (Damien Molony), DC Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Steele (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and DI Martha Bellamy (Fay Ripley)
DS Jack Weston (Damien Molony), DC Charlie Steele (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and DI Martha Bellamy (Fay Ripley)

Rating: ★★★½

Channel 5: starts wednesday, August 20, 10pm

Story: Martha’s neighbour, barrister Jonathan Moxton, is found at home with serious head injuries, his wrists bound with a belt and a pair of knickers stuffed in his mouth. Jack guesses that he was involved in a sex game that went badly wrong.

THERE WAS MILD incredulity when series one of this improvised police drama went out earlier this year.

It was pretty good. But the astonishment was prompted by the realisation that it was made by Channel 5, home of dire afternoon movies, Extreme Fishing with Robson Green and Big Brother. They hadn’t made a drama in eight years.

Suspects: Saul (Dominic Power) waits to be interviewed by the police
Suspect Saul Hammond

The stories are standard police procedurals, but what made the series stand out was its energy and feel of spontaneity. The lack of a script means the actors were improvising and because it was filmed in verité style, it was snappy and very watchable.

Charlie Brooks, Dominic Power and Katie Jarvis

If the actors are in the zone, the drama flows. This new series has a pretty good mix of performers to bring it alive, with EastEnders‘ Charlie Brooks and Katie Jarvis, the raw young talent of the excellent movie Fish Tank, in the opener.

Suspects: Tanya Morton (Charlie Brooks) is interviewed by Martha (Fay Ripley)
Her EastEnders training comes in handy for Charlie Brooks

A barrister neighbour of Fay Ripley’s character DI Bellamy is found bludgeoned but alive during what appears to have a bondage game.

Suspicion falls on another neighbour, Saul (played by Dominic Power of Emmerdale fame), who lives in a hostel and is a paranoid schizophrenic. He’s volatile and his story keeps changing, but, as is the way of these things, the story is more complicated.

Friction between Jack and Charlie

Suspects: Martha (Fay Ripley) at the second crime scene
A second crime scene for Martha

Rarely for a crime drama, Suspects has a story here in which it is hard to fathom out who the killer is until late on (it is a two-parter).

Suspects does not have the depth of recent top series, such as Happy Valley or Broadchurch, but it is more interesting than plodding series like Lewis or Midsomer. The case is intriguing and the characters are also given a little hinterland, with the detectives Jack and Charlie sparking off each other because Jack is a little more personally invested in the investigation than he should be.

It’s the jewel in Ch5’s crown, anyway. Shame they didn’t have the conviction to make more than four episodes.

Cast: Damien Molony DS JackWeston, Clare-Hope Ashitey DC Charlie Steele, Fay Ripley DI Martha Bellamy, Dominic Power Saul Hammond, Charlie Brooks Tanya Moxton, Katie Jarvis Sadie Burns, Luke Newberry Nate Turner, Claire Cooper Carol Collins, David de Keyser Derek Collins

Check out these links…
Suspects 2 on Channel 5
Suspects series 1

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Britain’s Favourite Detectives on Channel 5

OK, pop pickers, it’s time for another countdown show and this time it’s to determine the nation’s favourite crime fighters. Channel 5 is devoting three hours to this trip down murder lane this Easter weekend (Saturday, 9.25pm).

The usual suspects will all feature, including Sherlock, Columbo, Morse, Poirot and Marple. There should be some fond memories and fun moments, such as Pierce Brosnan and Bruce Willis sleuthing debuts in Remington Steele and Moonlighting.

And of course the format demands plenty of talking heads chipping in – Lynda La Plante, Phil Davis, Una Stubbs, Felicity Kendall and Alan Davies included. So line up the Easter eggs on the sofa and get ready for the usual outrageous results.

My money’s on Rosemary & Thyme. Classic.

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Suspects, Channel 5, with Fay Ripley, Damien Molony PREVIEW

Suspects: Damien Molony, Fay Ripley and Clare-Hope Ashitey. Pics: Ch5
Damien Molony, Fay Ripley and Clare-Hope Ashitey. Pics: Ch5

Rating: ★★★ 

Ch 5: starts Wednesday, 12 February, 10pm

Story: Police investigate the reported abduction of a two-year-old girl from her home.

A NEW British drama commissioned by Channel 5? But surely Channel 5 is all reality rubbish, Aussie soaps and bought-in US cop shows?

This was my response when I saw Suspects in the channel’s highlights. ‘But Channel 5 doesn’t make dramas…’

Well, they do now. Suspects is a fresh venture into original drama, and it ain’t bad. The 10-part series is filmed documentary-style with the cast ad-libbing their roles according to a plot description.

It stars Fay Ripley (Cold Feet), Damien Molony (Being Human) and Clare-Hope Ashitey (Top Boy), and they carry the story along with believable naturalness.

Child killer working down the road

The opener is a knotty case, an investigation into the abduction of a toddler from her home. The family

Ch5 Suspects: DI Bellamy (Ripley), DS Weston (Molony) and DC Steele (Ashitey)
Suspects is filmed like a fly-on-the-wall documentary

set-up is difficult – dad and mum have separated, dad has custody of the children, including an older son – but alarm bells ring when it is discovered that a convicted child killer is working in the offie down the road.

The story moves at pace, with shifting perspectives and disclosures uncovering more and more of what happened.

Suspects is a decent drama, inexpensively made, with a plot-driven format that means we never get much insight into the characters of these London detectives – DI Bellamy (Ripley), DS Weston (Molony) and DC Steele (Ashitey). While it won’t have HBO quaking in its boots, it’s good to see Channel 5 investing in something more ambitious than Big Brother and Botched Bodies.

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Wentworth Prison, Channel 5, with Danielle Cormack, Catherine McClements, Nicole da Silva PREVIEW

Bea is arrested in Wentworth Prison. Pics: C5

Rating: ★★★½

Channel 5: starts Wednesday, 28 August, 10pm

Story: Bea Smith arrives at Wentworth Prison on remand, charged with the attempted murder of her husband.

YOU’D HAVE TO try really hard to muck up a prison series. All those desperate people caged together is drama under a magnifying glass with the sun beating down.

One of the best in recent years was Oz, the HBO series from the late 90s that launched the channel’s output of groundbreaking shows. More recently Prison Break was a hit for Fox TV.

But the mamma of the genre is undoubtedly Prisoner: Cell Block H (Prisoner in its native Australia), the women’s jail series that became something of a cult in the UK. Now Foxtel, an offshoot of Fox, has ‘reimagined’ the series as Wentworth Prison, featuring new and original characters from the old show, which ran from 1979 to 1986.

Leader of the pack – Franky

Sex, drugs, strip searches and a riot at Wentworth

And packed to the bars with dramatic conflict it certainly is. We’re introduced to life inside in the company of Bea Smith, who arrives on remand traumatised by events leading to her being charged with the attempted murder of her husband.

The riot sees Franky challenge Jacs (left)

Before she is even out of the prison van she has seen another prisoner give a guard a blowjob in exchange for a ciggie. But Bea’s trauma is really just beginning.

She stumbles on a couple of inmates making love in her cell, is forced to courier drugs into the prison, stripped searched, and then caught up in a prison riot. And that is just the first episode – with a further blood-soaked twist coming as a cliffhanger.

Rivals Franky and Jacs

Its selling point is that Wentworth Prison is more extreme than Cell Block H, with torture and murder also

Bea’s backstory – at the hands of abusive husband Harry

thrown in. Bea is initially a piece of meat thrown between rival gang leaders Franky, who is beautiful, charismatic and scary, and Jacs, who is older, domineering and scary.

But the violence is leavened by flashbacks exploring an inmate’s story in each episode. And then there is also the prison politics, with governor Meg Jackson clashing with her soft-hearted deputy Vera Bennett.

Wentworth Prison has intriguing characters and plenty of dramatic possibilities, to say nothing of the tension and edgy atmosphere. It’s already been recommissioned for a second series in Australia, and could be in for a long, eventful stretch on Channel 5.

Cast: Danielle Cormack Bea Smith, Catherine McClements Meg Jackson, Nicole da Silva Francesca Doyle, Kris McQuade Jacqueline Holt, Leeanna Walsman Erica Davidson, Kate Atkinson Vera Bennett, Celia Ireland Elizabeth Birdsworth, Shareena Clanton DoreenAnderson, Aaron Jeffrey MatthewFletcher, Robbie Magasiva Will Jackson, Jake Ryan  Harry Smith, Georgia Flood Debbie Smith

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Jack Taylor: The Guards starring Iain Glen C5 PREVIEW

Jack Taylor looks for a missing daughter in Galway. Pics: Channel 5

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 5: starts Thursday, 21 February, 9pm

Story: Beautiful Anne Henderson comes into Jack´s local pub and asks him to find her missing daughter. Before long, former cop Jack is submerged in the grimy secret lives of Galway´s outwardly respectable middle class citizens. 

News that Irish author Ken Bruen’s terrific series of books about former Galway cop Jack Taylor were getting the telly treatment may have tempted a few to reach for a beer and chaser. Or several.

Would the drama capture the character’s battered personality, or would he be stripped of everything that makes him compelling – booze, bad attitude and beatings.

Well, Channel 5 is stepping outside of its comfort zone of interminable US buy-ins – The Mentalist, Castle, NCIS, etc – for this series of three Irish acquisitions. And, while not perfect, they take a decent stab at capturing the books’ specialness.

Jack (Iain Glen) and Anne (Tara Breathnach)

Jack Taylor – aka Iain Glen
The opener is based on the first novel, The Guards, introducing us to the bloodyminded, dishevelled, boozy, unshaven Taylor, recently turfed out of the Irish police because ‘I’m risk-taking and don’t kiss arse’.

He gets by as a ‘finder’, and is approached by the Anne Henderson at his local, who asks him to find her daughter.

Iain Glen certainly looks the part of the rundown cop, and while the Scottish actor’s Irish accent is elusive, his trademark low, smooth voice – familiar in everything from Game of Thrones, Prisoners Wives to Downton Abbey – works for the character. And he is versatile and charismatic enough as a performer to win us over as the man battling demons within and without.

With friends like these… Sutton

Taylor’s dangerous ‘friend’ Sutton
Anyway, the bodies of three young women are washed up in the river. The word is suicide, but Jack suspects something more sinister, and Anne Henderson fears her daughter may soon be among them.

Jack teams up with an old paratrooper mate, though, like many boozers, he does not always show good judgement of character. Sutton turns out to be a nasty piece of work who jeopardises Jack’s inquiries with his brutality.

The investigation leads to a factory that illegally employs plenty of young women. It turns into a very dirty business indeed, featuring well-connected people with criminal secrets.

Vivid and tragic anti-hero
TV likes to focus on the plots of crime novels, often discarding interesting characters for the mechanics of whodunit. Ken Bruen’s novels are plot-lite, with digressions and observations from Taylor that make them so vivid and tragic.

This trio of TV movies are each two hours long, however, and spend time to breathe life into our anti-hero. Taylor’s narration captures much of his caustic view of contemporary Ireland. Elsewhere, the drama passes on some of the books’ poetry, such as when he tells Anne of a Guard collegue he once loved – ‘She made me feel I was more than I was.’

Jack has a network of un-influential street contacts

Also included are Taylor’s awful mother – ‘You’ll come to nothing, like your father’ – his ‘father-confessor’ and favourite barman, Sean, his nemesis in the force, Clancy, and his bond with the street dwellers of Galway.

Watching these films, any fans of Ken Bruen’s award-winning books who do reach for the bottle will probably do so with a smile rather than a need to find a level of oblivion worthy of Jack Taylor himself.  This is a good series, which makes you want to go back to the novels.

Cast: Iain Glen Jack Taylor, Ralph Brown Sutton, Tara Breathnach Anne Henderson, Barry Cassin Sean, Paraic Breathnach Father Malachy, David Heap Lanpert

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