Law & Order: UK series 8, ITV, with Bradley Walsh, Ben Bailey Smith PREVIEW

BEN BAILEY SMITH as DS Joe Hawkins and BRADLEY WALSH as DS Ronnie Brooks. Law and Order: UK, ITV
DS Ronnie Brooks and new partner DS Joe Hawkins (Ben Bailey Smith). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★★

ITV: starts Wednesday, 12 March, 9pm

Ronnie and his new partner Joe are leading an investigation into the death of jeweller Harry Bernstein who is found dead with no hands or teeth.

THE cast of ITV’s hit reworking of Dick Wolf’s hugely successful US drama may chop and change, but Bradley Walsh’s dependable old trooper Ronnie Brooks soldiers on.

Which is great for the series. ITV has exported L&O: UK all round the world – even back to the US – and in eight series over five years, it has become a very successful part of the channel’s drama line-up, nabbing 5.4million viewers during the last series.

It won’t challenge the best shows around – currently led by True Detective on Sky Atlantic – but its taut stories exposing the vagaries of the legal process are far more gripping than Midsomer Murders or Death in Paradise.

Ronnie Brooks is now the face of the show

Bradley Walsh doesn’t do anything spectacular as an actor on the show, but he is likeable as an

 Law and Order: UK, ITV. ROSALYN WRIGHT as Miranda Jones, GEORGIA TAYLOR as Kate Barker and DOMINIC ROWAN as SCP Jacob Thorne
Barker and Thorne with their witness, Rosalyn (right)

idealised decent, by-the-book copper with his neat hair, spectacles and mac, and no one else on it has his sheer watchability. The former footballer turned comic, quizmaster and actor has now earned his acting spurs to such a degree that he was up against David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch at the National TV Awards (Cumberbatch won).

His character’s veteran status – he’s the only original face still on duty – is highlighted in this new series by the arrival of his latest partner, DS Joe Hawkins, played by Ben Bailey Smith (aka rapper and standup Doc Brown).

Hawkins is straight in from child protection and early on there is friction between him and Ronnie when they are interviewing a young lad who may have witnessed a horrible murder in a car park. Joe, the younger man, effectively tells Ronnie that the boy is traumatised and should be questioned more gently, and Ronnie doesn’t initially like being told how to do his job.

Dale Horgan, drug dealer and vicious murderer

The friction between them is just one story strand in yet another strong start to a L&O: UK series, typically appearing at first to be about one crime, but

 Law and Order: UK, ITV. PETER BARRETT as Dale Horgan
Nasty piece of work – Dale Horgan

then turning into an investigation into a different offence, and on this occasion one that is much more harrowing.

It opens in adrenaline-pumping style with a car chase, a crash and a grisly discovery. The driver pursued by police is dead, but in his boot is a corpse with no hands or teeth. This is the body of a gem dealer, and at first this appears to be some kind of business vendetta.

But instead, Brooks soon finds himself up against a really nasty operator, Dale Horgan, a drug dealer and vicious murderer who the detective sergeant has been trying to imprison for years.

Future guest stars

The legal team of Thorne (Dominic Rowan) and Barker (Georgia Taylor) raised the stakes in court, but the episode ends badly for Brooks. All of which sets things up nicely for ensuing weeks.

Helen Baxendale and Diana Quick are among the bewigged characters in this opener, and upcoming guest stars include Hattie Morahan, Joseph Millson, the late Roger Lloyd Pack, Colin Salmon, Roy Hudd, Christopher Fulford, Haydn Gwynne and Harriet Walter.

A fine line-up – but it’s unlikely any of their characters will outshine Ronnie Brooks.

Cast: Bradley Walsh DS Ronnie Brooks, Ben Bailey Smith DS Joe Hawkins, Paterson Joseph DI Wes Leyton, Dominic Rowan Jacob Thorne, Georgia Taylor Kate Barker, Peter Davison Henry Sharpe, Helen Baxendale Eleanor Richmond, Tracy Brabin Lyndsey Bernstein, Diana Quick Judge Hall, Christopher Fulford Mickey Belker, Michael Culkin Justice Lockwood, Dale Horgan Peter BarrettSonny Serkis Danny (Eyeris) 

Dirk Gently series 2 starring Stephen Mangan PREVIEW

Chaos reigns with Dirk and Macduff. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC Four, starts Monday, 5 March, 9pm

Story: It seems a bit mad to try to sum up the plot, but it begins with Dirk receiving a hate Valentine’s card, and proceeds to a paranoid client – who fears the Pentagon is trying to kill him – turning up dead. It is rounded off with Dirk being asked by a wife to investigate her adulterous husband, who also employs the sleuths to find out why his horoscopes are coming true. How are these random cases interconnected? Just watch…

Random mysteries are about to collide as holistic detective Dirk Gently returns for three new investigations. ‘Embrace the chaos,’ as the unorthodox sleuth says – and for those viewers who can, this second helping of Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide) Adams’s creation is totally logical.

Scary (unpaid) receptionist Janice (Lisa Jackson)

Stephen Mangan’s take on the rather dodgy and egocentric private eye was unveiled by the Beeb in 2010, so there’s been quite a lag between adventures. Since then Mangan’s been seen in the  laughter-lite sitcom Episodes with Matt LeBlanc, which, surprisingly, has been recommissioned.

Trust to randomness and chaos
Dirk Gently is a more modest show that still provides plenty of grin-inducing moments, without rupturing the laughter muscles. Mangan, who’s proved expert in playing chancers since he hit the limelight in Green Wing, and Darren Boyd, as his assistant/partner Macduff, are a good pairing as the bickering sleuths who veer between incompetence and genius in solving cases for usually non-paying clients.

Laughing policemen – cop shows with a twist of humour
  • Castle – amateur sleuthing and flirting between a detective and a novelist: C5 from Wed, 7 March
  • A Touch of Cloth – Charlie Brooker’s spoof starring John Hannah, Suranne Jones: Sky 1, April

There’s something reassuring about a series that takes the detective genre staples – a conspiracy theory and adulterous husband in this opener – along with life’s problems and treats them as offshoots of sod’s law. ‘Trust to randomness and chaos to solve the case,’ says Dirk to Macduff, who replies at one point, ‘Bollocks.’

Jilted wife Emma (Cosima Shaw)

The brown Austin Princess
So, crime fans who love to unravel a teasing plot should look elsewhere for other series that have more reasonable storylines (no, not Midsomer Murders).

You watch Dirk Gently to marvel at his brown Austin Princess, the crazed whimsy of his deductions and the silliness of Howard Overman’s script. ‘He has less chance of being murdered than you or I,’ says Dirk of their ‘paranoid’ client, as he and Macduff walk in to find the man’s corpse.

Helen Baxendale
Macduff’s level-headed girlfriend, Susan (Helen Baxendale), is not in episode one, but she features in the next story, which should stir things nicely.

Cast: Stephen Mangan Dirk, Darren Boyd Macduff, Jason Watkins DI Gilks, Lisa Jackson Janice, Paul Ritter Oliver, Cosima Shaw Emma, Ken Collard Matthew, Colin McFarlane Terrence, Miranda Raison Kate

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Kidnap and Ransom 2, Trevor Eve PREVIEW

Armed with his three mobiles – Dominic King (Trevor Eve). Pics: ITV

Rating: ★★★½ 

ITV1, starts Thursday, 23 February, 9pm

Story: Srinagar, Kashmir. Dominic King is negotiating the release of a British Asian family kidnapped while visiting their son, Mahavir. As the handover is completed, the police turn up unexpectedly and a shoot-out ensues. The kidnappers (Anwar and Leela) get away with Mahavir and in their panic they board a tourist bus, taking all the passengers hostage…

Dealing with homicidal hostage takers is not a barrel of laughs, which makes Trevor Eve the ideal actor to play Dominic King.

He doesn’t do light-hearted. There were few giggles in Waking the Dead or Bouquet of Barbed Wire. But when it comes to the furrowed brow and tight lips, Eve is King, so to speak.

Even the trigger-happy police are hard work

His former military man turned hostage negotiator is back in the middle of a mighty mess here. A well-planned operation to free the kidnapped Mehta family goes wrong when the police provoke a shoot-out. The Mehtas’ son, Mahavir, is snatched and the kidnappers, Anwar and Leela, hijack a bus containing British, American and German tourists.

Pregnant woman and a hostage with a secret
Making matters worse is the political indifference in London – the Foreign Secretary wants Dominic to step aside and leave negotiations to the trigger-happy Kashmir police.

Writer Michael Crompton, whose inspiration for this three-partner was the 1993 hijacking of a bus in Rio that spiralled out of control, skilfully weaves more drama into the crisis. So there’s a pregnant woman among the hostages, intrigue about the kidnappers, the dying father ill with cancer and the eventual discovery that someone on-board is more valuable than the increasingly desperate Anwar realises.

Dominic, whose company, Beddoes King, negotiates for hostages on behalf of insurance firms, is a Sherlock Holmes among negotiators, expert in the science of crisis management and always one step ahead of police and gunmen. He virtually hijacks the crisis and buys more time to talk by exposing police incompetence to the world’s media and getting in touch with Amwar via mobile phone.

Helen Baxendale – love interest?
However, he’s not such an expert in managing his personal life. His second marriage, to Sophie, is breaking up, his reluctance to return from the trouble spots and support her career being the main reason.

Business and pleasure? Angela (Helen Baxendale)

Helen Baxendale is back as Angela Beddoes, Dominic’s business partner, and their relationship becomes emotionally charged – which would surely need serious negotiation before it could work as a romance between such a distant, high-powered couple.

Shadowy negotiators
Kidnap and Ransom was created by Patrick Harbinson (24, Law & Order, ER) and is made by Eve’s production company Projector Pictures. While the main jolt of dramatic tension is of course down to the ticking clock – Amwar giving deadlines before he executes hostages, Dominic jumping through hoops – another big plus point is the research that goes into it, Eve and the team having met the shadowy real-life negotiators and getting the scripts checked by them.

This can inject the characters with believable detail. As Eve explains, ‘Most of them are retired, military men, who really can’t live with retirement and they’re trying to go back to the adrenaline. When we’ve met  them they have their three phones, and every now and then they’ll walk away and say, “Sorry, it’s the situation,” which is what they call it, and they take the call. I’ve met five of them and they were all pretty much the same – they just wanted to be back on the front line for the thrills and the tension of it all.’ A bit like Dominic King.

With 20,000 kidnaps reported every year, this series could run and run. That should put a smile on Eve’s face.

Cast: Trevor Eve Dominic King, Helen Baxendale Angela Beddoes, Amara Karan Carrie Heath, Natasha Little Sophie King,  Owen Teale Robert Holland, Kimberley Nixon Florence Holland,   Madhur Mittal Anwar Razdan, Hasina Haque Leela Nishad, Gregg Chillin Mahavir Mehta, Sharon Small Beth Cooper, Letisha Singh Insp. Joythi Kohli, Daniel Fox Karl Fraser, Barbara Marten Janet Taylor, Chris Fairbank Chris Taylor, Sean Gilder Shaun Cooper, Khalil Kathrada Indian Tour Guide, Conrad Kemp Joshua, Kerstin Frances Louise, Dylan Skews Brendan, Lise Slabber Rhiane, David Dennis Mr Hiresh Mehta, Denise Newman Mrs Jasmin Mehta, Chae Pieterse Elina Mehta, Peter Butler Iqbal Razdan   

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Dirk Gently PREVIEW

Digging the Dirk: MacDuff, Gently and Susan (Pics: BBC/ITV Studios)

Rating ★★★½
BBC Four, Thursday, 16 December, 9pm

It’s easy to have low expectations for a new comedy adaptation, particularly from as distinctive and cultish a writer as Douglas Adams, who can be deadened by a flat treatment (2005’s Hitchhiker’s Guide movie, anyone?). Nothing fails like a keenly awaited comedy that leaves your face resembling an Easter Island statue throughout.

Happily, the Beeb’s new Dirk Gently will have most viewers’ laughing gear moving in the right directions. It’s succinct at one-hour long, has a fine cast and is a good production all round, with a jaunty Sixties-tinged, crime-movie score.

Helen Baxendale and Stephen Mangan
Stephen Mangan as Dirk recaptures the oddball verve he showed in the excellent Green Wing. He’s the detective who thinks all evidence is interconnected, that ‘every particle in the universe affects every other particle’. Mangan switches easily between shifty and charmingly eccentric.

Helen Baxendale is attractive and fun as Susan, who feels Dirk’s holistic theories are ‘crap’. And Darren Boyd is suitably gormless and questioning as Susan’s boyfriend and Dirk’s sidekick, MacDuff.

Dirk is actually a mini-universe of chaos all on his own. He has a fridge delivered to his office because he is in a ‘cold-war stand-off’ with his cleaner, who has padlocked the one at home. He pays a schoolboy 200 cheap cigarettes to do a bit of computer hacking for him.

Douglas Adams’s far-out humour
Broke, manipulative and driving a 30-year-old yuk-brown Austin Princess, his first client is an old lady, Mrs Jordan (a wonderfully dithering and malevolent Doreen Mantle), who wants him to find her Henry – ‘He’s all I have.’

Henry, of course, is a cat, and the start of Dirk’s attempt to pull together seemingly incoherent pieces of evidence, including the factory that he and MacDuff escape from before it blows up and Susan’s ‘affair’ with missing ex-boyfriend Gordon.

There are some nice sight gags, but most of all Adams’s absurd, imaginative humour comes through nicely as the conventions of crime fiction are playfully tweaked (much credit should go to writer and Bafta-winner Howard Overman). Where Sherlock Holmes deduces, Dirk Gently reduces the universe’s chaos to a unified theory of guilt.

Great fun.

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