|Douglas Henshall as Detective Perez. Pic: BBC|
BBC1: starts Sunday, 10 March, 9pm
Story: Detective Jimmy Perez has returned to his native Shetland and is confronted by the shooting of an old lady and the discovery of human remains at an archaeological dig.
The Shetland Islands are not quite far enough north to classify this new crime procedural as Scandi-noir, but they’re not far off. Gloomy and wind-blasted, they even have a Viking-themed fire festival and the locals have the same un-sunny complexion as the characters in The Killing or The Bridge.
Still, this remote outpost of the UK is an intriguing and magnificent setting – when there’s some daylight. It also has its challenges for our hero, Jimmy Perez, such as often having no phone signal or having to jump on a ferry to visit a murder scene.
|Sandy, Jimmy and Tosh
Jimmy Perez investigates a granny’s murder
The detective is a native Shetlander who has returned home to bring up his stepdaughter, Cassie, following the death of his other half. The first killing he has to investigate is that of a grandmother, Mima, blasted with a shotgun at her isolated croft.
This two-part mystery is based on Ann Cleeves’ elegantly written novel, Red Bones (Ann is also the author of the Vera novels, soon to return to ITV). Sadly, this production falls into the trap of thrusting us straight in the police procedural element of the story without giving us much chance to learn about Jimmy, his return to the island with teenager Cassie, or his new colleagues – Sgt Billy McCabe, DC Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh and PC Sandy Wilson.
Doulas Henshall heads a good cast in Shetland
So many British crime dramas are about detectives in a pretty setting asking people where they were on the night of the 15th. Sadly, Shetland slavishly follows the formula, leaving Jimmy and the other main characters flat.
Which is a shame, because the cast is good, the novel full of atmosphere and the islands are fascinating. But all we get here is the whodunit with tourist trappings – ceilidhs, seascapes and the rest, with little character interest.
Murdered for her land?
Anyway, back to the plot. Mima has been killed by the site of a dig where a human skull has just been found by Hattie, a young archaeologist. Perez realises that Mima may have been caught between the long-held animosities of two local families – the rich Haldanes and the struggling Wilsons.
Mima had been offered money for her land, which was targeted for holiday homes. Was she killed for her land? Or was it because she might close down the dig after the human remains were found, which for some reason upset her? Are the bones ancient or contemporary?
Up Helly Aa – the fire festival
The drama is ratcheted up nicely in part two as the annual fire festival, Up Helly Aa, is spectacularly recreated and Perez closes on the grievances that led to murder.
It’s a decent enough mystery, but a shame that Jimmy and co never burn as brightly as the festival.
Cast: Douglas Henshall Detective Jimmy Perez, Erin Armstrong Cassie, Gemma Chan Hattie James, Sandra Voe Mima Wilson, Alison O’Donnell Alison ‘Tosh’ MacIntosh, Lewis Howden Sgt Billy McCabe, Steven Robertson PC Sandy Wilson, Jim Sturgeon Ronald, Alexander Morton Joseph
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.