A Touch of Cloth II, Sky1, with John Hannah, Suranne Jones, Anna Chancellor, Stephen Dillane PREVIEW

A Touch of Cloth Series 2.Episode Number and Name..NAvin Chowdhry, Adrian Bowher, John Hannah, Suranne Jones & Julian Rhind-Tutt...© Endemol UK LTD.
Cop this – Navin Chowdhry, Adrian Bowher, John Hannah, Suranne Jones and Julian Rhind-Tutt. Pic: BSkyB

Rating: ★★★★

Sky1: start Sunday, 25 August, 9pm

Story: Cloth is done. The brilliant but tortured detective has quit the force, never to return, completely out of the game. Well, until a bank robbery-gone-wrong brings him back into play.

IT WILL BE HARD for British TV to dream up another series about an embittered, hard-drinking maverick detective after Cloth. This goes into every crack of the hackneyed cop procedural genre and wipes the cliches off with aplomb.

Charlie Brooker and co-writers Jason Hazeley, Joel Morris and Ben Caudell have brought back their

A Touch of Cloth Series 2.Episode Number and Name..Macratty (Stephen Dillan) and Jill Titts (Susy Kane)..© Endemol UK LTD.
Jill Titts (Susy Kane) and Macratty (Stephen Dillan) 

wacky lone-wolf cop for a second series, and once again a terrific cast keeps a straight face while playing silly buggers with our most revered TV archetype.

Predatory lesbian and a whisky optic

How John Hannah as Cloth and Suranne Jones as his partner Oldman (pronounced Old-man) keep a straight face is a model of disciplined acting in the face of terrible provocation (though the out-takes must be interesting).

They’re joined by Julian Rhind-Tutt as senior cop Tom Boss (‘I want them caught and caught hard’), with Anna Chancellor in fruity form as predatory lesbian and mayoral candidate Hope Goodgirl, along with Game of Thrones‘ Stephen Dillane as gangster Macratty.

Cloth, of course, has left the force after his boss, Tom Boss, killed his wife, and he is now driving a taxi, which is fitted out with a whisky optic on the front dash board for the drowning of sorrows and bitterness. That is until a bank robbery results in the death of former EastEnder-turned-cop Todd Carty, and Cloth makes a comeback.

Policing on the edge

‘Jack, don’t forget which side you’re on,’ says Old-man.

A Touch of Cloth Series 2.Episode Number and Name..Todd Carty 2...© Endemol UK LTD.
Todd Carty to the rescue

‘I’m not on a side,’ Cloth replies. ‘I’m on the edge.’

Smutty, silly, and full of sight gags, A Touch of Cloth gives the cop-show cliches a good truncheon battering. And while not every joke hits home, the laughs out-weigh the duds.

‘You can tell your grandkids about this,’ a bank robber says to a bank customer whom he is holding hostage.

‘I’m gay,’ says the hostage.

‘Well… you can turn it into a musical.’

Cast: John Hannah DI Jack Cloth, Suranne Jones DI Anne Oldman, Navin Chowdhry DC Asap Qureshi, Adrian Bower DC Des Hairihan, Julian Rhind-Tutt ACC Tom Boss, Daisy Beaumont Dr Natasha Suchet, Anna Chancellor Hope Goodgirl, Stephen Dillane Macratty, Todd Carty Todd Carty

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Mad Dogs 3, Sky1, with John Simm, Philip Glenister, Marc Warren, Max Beesley

Mad Dogs III - Episode 1 .Selected Stills - Exterior Airfield South Africa; Rick (MARK WARREN) doesn't think he can do it alone! Sky1
Don’t look now – Rick (Marc Warren) faces a threatening future alone. Pics: BSkyB

Rating: ★★★

Sky1: starts Tuesday, 4 June, 9pm

Story: After the law finally caught up with them at the end of the last series, Woody, Quinn, Baxter and Rick are now being interrogated in a dilapidated prison in the Moroccan desert.

THOSE MAD DOGS who managed to turn a fun reunion in Spain into the holiday from hell involving stolen drug money and murder are now hitting their third series.
The law of diminishing returns dictates that this should be poorer than those preceding it. But while it is not as engaging or funny as the first series, it does pack surprises and have the guts to take the story on a new trajectory. 

Jaime Winstone as Mercedes

Woody (Max Beesley), Quinn (Philip Glenister), Baxter (John Simm) and Rick (Marc Warren) find

Mad Dogs III - EPISODE 1..Woody (Max Beesley). SKY ONE
Caged – Woody (Max Beesley)

themselves in a rundown interrogation centre in the Moroccan desert as episode one starts. The treatment they get is rough, they look rough and there’s a tough young female prisoner there giving them a hard time.

This is Jaime Winstone playing Mercedes, and she seems to be following in dad Ray’s footsteps by being the hardest character on display. Mercedes is a soldier who strayed but shows her combat readiness by throwing Quinn to the ground.

She’s also a lot more clued-up than the clueless foursome. When Quinn whinges about their rights being infringed by their incarceration, Mercedes tells them, ‘This place doesn’t exist.’

Mad Dogs is again intriguing, surreal and pretty silly 

Sky1 Mad Dogs III - Episode 1 Exterior Airfield South Africa - The boys step out of the aircraft when its landed. Woody (MAX BEESLEY), Quinn (PHILIP GLENISTER), Baxter (JIOHN SIMM) and Rick (MARK WARREN)
Flying by the seat of their pants – Baxter, Woody, Rick and Quinn

They are, of course, in this pickle after being duped by Mackenzie (David Warner) at the end of series two. Instead of arriving in Barcelona with the three-million euros, the ship container they were travelling in turned up in Morocco, where they were greeted by armed men who took the money.

Writer Cris Cole instils the new series with intrigue and surreal touches again, including a scary little African figure haunting proceedings this time. It’s a disorientating touch, similar to ‘Tiny’ Blair’s appearance in series one.

That was a triumph for Sky1 in 2011, getting nominated for a Bafta and winning terrific ratings for a non-terrestrial channel (episode one got 1.6 million viewers). The plot was slow in places but the theme of old mates meeting up in disappointed middle age – and played with relish by the four actors – gave the drama emotional impact while the lads got sucked into Alvo’s criminal enterprise.

The lads are now on the run from the CIA

This new series has lost much of that as the foursome’s characters are subsumed in a hectic story. Where ‘Tiny’ Blair was bizarre, funny and sinister, here the scary masked figure is part of a more

Mad Dogs III - EPISODE 1..Rick (Marc Warren) interrogated SKY ONE
Wired – Rick under interrogation

confusing set-up.

Anton Lesser eventually turns up as Alex, who appears to be from the British government and tells the guys they are on a CIA hit list (don’t ask). From there the drama spins off into another country and another cliffhanger.

Mad Dogs is now a story charging along so fast it’s hard to get a grip on who’s who and what’s happening. The final moments of this opener do, however, set up some interesting possibilities for the remaining three episodes, so perhaps the dogs will stop chasing their tails and the series can recapture its earlier charm and character focus.

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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.

Thorne: Sleepyhead PREVIEW

David Morrissey as Tom Thorne (all pics: Sky)

Sundays from 10 October, 9pm Sky1

Rating ★★★½

Viewers with a soft spot for David Morrissey may be distressed by Sleepyhead, the opening story from this smart, vivid Tom Thorne series.

The actor is battered, bruised, drugged, seen throwing-up and falling off a building. That’s all before he gets one more pasting. Even his wife, novelist Esther Freud, said he looked rough when she saw the show.

But what also grabs the attention in this screen version of novelist Mark Billingham’s popular detective series is its visual pizzazz and excellent cast of strong characters.

London’s multi-ethnic streets and its evolving wastelands round Stratford make a rich backdrop, while a smattering of vintage country music (the choice of Morrissey and Billingham) give the show a freshly different texture to that of staples such as Inspector George Gently or Poirot.

Eddie Marsan on top form


Morrissey is battered but dominant, while being assured enough as an actor (and executive producer here) to share plenty of screen time and plot with a terrific cast. Eddie Marsan stands out as Thorne’s bitter colleague, Kevin Tughan.

Natascha McElhone (Californication, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Dr Anne Coburn adds humour and a frisson in her scenes with Morrissey, while Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Identity) is spiky as pathologist Phil Hendricks, who shares a dangerous secret with Thorne.

Stephen Hopkins, the Emmy-winning director who made episodes of 24 as well as The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, injects pace and a wonderful eye for the new London.

Sky may not exactly churn out new drama, but coming after last year’s impressive version of Martina Cole’s The Take, Thorne shows ambition and grit where the Beeb and ITV sometimes seem plodding with period cops and dull procedurals.

Locked-in syndrome
Billingham’s many fans will be familiar with Thorne’s first-ever case and the author’s ingenious idea of having his serial killer inducing a state of ‘locked-in syndrome’ in his victims, in which they can think and see but not move or feel.

The psycho does this by applying pressure to points on the neck and head. He fails several times, killing his victims, before successfully inflicting a state of living paralysis on Alison (Sara Lloyd Gregory). Thorne finally realises their man wants to paralyse rather than kill his victims.

The drama echoes the book in feeding us Alison’s frantic, bitter and humorous internal thoughts, which gives the story emotional punch (Billingham doesn’t like victims to be used as mere plot points).

She holds the key to finding the killer, but as Thorne investigates he is taunted by messages that could only be emanating from a serial killer he once caught and who is now dead. 

Scaredy Cat
Here the Sky version veers away from the novel and becomes a little convoluted. But there’s no doubting that the interplay between the main characters is psychologically tense and compelling. 

Sleepyhead is to be followed immediately by another three-part story, Scaredy Cat (starring Sandra Oh, above), and the author along with Morrissey, are hoping these will clock up enough viewers for more to be commissioned.

Morrissey clearly has the multi-tasking capabilities of a Swiss Army knife, having launched his own production company (Tubedale Films), recently appeared in Red Riding, Five Days, Poirot and U Be Dead, while helping to get Thorne off the ground.

With such a punishing schedule, it’s a wonder he looks so good in Sleepyhead.

The ’20s roar again – in America, anyway

Lucky viewers in the US will see Martin Scorsese’s prohibition saga Boardwalk Empire tomorrow night. Sky is tight-lipped about when – and where (Sky1, or a pay-movie channel?) – UK viewers will get a glimpse. The Independent suggests Blighty won’t be treated to the most anticipated (and perhaps expensive) TV series of the year until 2011. Next Easter, anyone? It’s enough to make you reach for a bottle of hooch – or place an order for the boxset.

First glimpse of Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat

Sky1’s all-star dramatisation of DI Thorne, featuring the first two stories from Mark Billingham’s hit series of novels, are now scheduled for October. I hope to be reviewing them in the first week of next month, but in the meantime here is a glimpse of scenes from the opening three-part Thorne films.

Thorne: Sleepyhead
Stars: David Morrissey (State of Play, Red Riding, Doctor Who) as Tom Thorne; Natascha McElhone (Californication, The Truman Show); Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes, Little Dorrit); and Aidan Gillen (The Wire, Identity)

Thorne investigates a sadistic serial killer, whose fourth victim, Alison, survives – unluckily for her. The killer has induced ‘locked-in syndrome’ in her, a state in which she is conscious but unable to move or communicate. Thorne soon realises this was the goal in all the killer’s attacks, not to kill but to paralyse. During the investigation, he also revisits a terrifying personal secret from 15 previously.
Director Benjamin Ross (Poppy Shakespeare, RKO 281) says, ‘I wanted to shoot an epic version of London. We shot a morning chase across the roofs of Shoreditch and a murder sequence at the Thames Barrier. It’s a very gritty landscape of London that you don’t even see in movies.’

Thorne: Scaredy Cat
Stars: David Morrissey; Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy, Sideways)

Two women are murdered near St Pancras Station. Thorne discovers he’s chasing not one, but two serial killers.

Watching the new detectives this autumn

Two popular Brit detectives make the leap from the novel to small screen soon – Mark Billingham’s spooky cop Tom Thorne and Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks.

Sky1 has filmed David Morrissey in two Thorne mysteries, the original story in the series, Sleepyhead, and the second, Scaredy Cat.

Sleepyhead, the chilling story of a serial killer who induces in his victim a conscious state of paralysis, also has Natascha McElhone, Aidan Gillen and Eddie Marsan among the cast (Sandra Oh from Grey’s Anatomy will appear in Scaredy Cat). For Sky1, Sleepyhead is one of its marquee shows this autumn and details of its broadcast time will be out soon.

Meanwhile, ITV1 has lined up one of its favourite actors, Stephen Tompkinson, to breathe life into Banks. Whether Tompkinson, star of such family faves as Wild at Heart, has the oomph to cut it as a cop pushed to his limits by yet another serial monster in Aftermath should be interesting.

UK telly honchos are always seeking the holy grail of the next Morse, or even a Wexford. But the listings mags are filled with forgotten entries for such flops as Rebus, ITV miserably failing to capture the cussedness and self-destructiveness of Ian Rankin’s brilliant character.

We’ll soon know whether Peter Robinson, Mark Billingham and their many readers will enjoy a better result. In the meantime, for a taste of Thorne’s first outing, check the grisly trailer on Mark Billingham’s site.

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