Friday, April 2, 2021

The Bay

:  Detective Sergeant Lisa Armstrong (Morven Christie) is a family liaison officer in Morecambe Bay. When a pair of teenaged twins go missing, she and a new detective constable (Taheen Modak) are assigned to interface with the troubled family. Imagine Lisa's surprise when she discovers that the twins' father is the same man with whom she had a alleyway sexual encounter the previous night! While working on the case, Lisa also has to cope with her rebellious teenage daughter and son. Fortunately, her mother provides some stability for the family.

Running Time: 60 minutes.

Status: Two seasons, comprising 12 episodes, aired between 2019-2021. A third season has been commissioned.

Production Notes:  Morven Christie, who previously starred in Grantchester, decided to leave The Bay in 2021. She will will be replaced by Marsha Thomason (White Collar), who will play a new detective sergeant for the West Lancashire Police Service.

Our ReviewThe Bay is a moderately successful attempt to blend crime and family drama. Morven is an appealing lead, which helps the viewer overlook her character's incredibly poor decisions during the first season. The Bay improves during the second season as the focus broadens to include more background on Lisa's boss (Daniel Ryan) and her partner Med (Modak). It also helps that the guest cast includes several actors known for other popular crime shows: Stephen Tompkinson (DCI Banks); Sharon Small (Inspector Lynley and London Kills); and Steven Robertson (Shetland).

Grade: B.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries

Sharon Smalls and Nathaniel Parker.
Premise:  Thomas "Tommy" Lynley, the 8th Earl of Asherton, is a detective inspector at Scotland Yard. Some of his colleagues consider him an entitled, college-educated "ponce." However, Lynley (Nathaniel Parker) is actually an intelligent, thorough policeman who doesn't make friends easily. In the pilot episode, he is paired with Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers (Sharon Small), who has a reputation for being difficult with male colleagues. She is driven to succeed in a male-dominated profession and exhibits pride in having attained her rank. However, she is also insecure about her working-class background and social awkwardness. While Lynley and Havers may seem like opposites, they click as a team and quickly earn each other's trust. Lynley is less lucky when it comes to love and struggles with his on again-off again relationship with Helen Clyde, a police profiler.

Running Time: 90 minutes.

Status: Six seasons, comprising 24 episodes, aired between 2001-2008.

Production Notes:  The first three seasons feature adaptations of American writer Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley novels. In a 2019 interview with PBS, star Nathaniel Parker noted: "I think the dynamic of me, a boss, and an underling who is sergeant, who were different sexes and yet not being overly flirty, not playing on that, has also stood the test of time." In 2019, both Parker and Smalls appeared in other British TV detective shows:  Parker had a guest star role on Gratchester and Smalls starred in two season of London Kills--playing a detective sergeant again.

Our Review:  The episodes based on George's novels are superior to the ones written expressly for the series. For example, in a sloppily-plotted fourth season episode, Lynley and Havers leave the only copy of an important document in their car...and it's promptly stolen by the bad guys. Still, Lynley and Havers are a dynamic pair and play off each other exceedingly well. Their relationship is what propels the series. It also keeps some of the stories from veering off into melodrama, such as when Lynley and Helen (who comes across as very selfish) separate following a family tragedy.

Grade: B+.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Inspector Morse

John Thaw as Morse.
Premise:  Inspector Morse and Detective Sergeant Lewis investigate crimes for the Thames Valley Police in Oxford, England. Their cases often require them to navigate between the local townsfolk and the Oxford academia. Occasionally, though, their work sends them to more "exotic" locales such as Italy or Australia. Morse is a highly-intelligent, middle-aged bachelor who shares few interests with his colleagues. While they're passionate about soccer, he prefers opera, literature, crossword puzzles, and zipping around in his red Jaguar Mark 2. Granted, he does like his beer...but only the good stuff. Morse isn't above flirting with the opposite sex (including suspects), but he doesn't have much luck with enduring relationships. His partner, Detecive Sergeant Robbie Lewis, is his antithesis--public school-educated, a family man, and interested in sports. (In one episode, Morse has Lewis go undercover as a cricket team player.) Yet, while they share few common interests, the duo respect and remain loyal to each other--even when Morse belittles Lewis for not knowing the name of a Wagner opera.

Running Time: 45 minutes.

Status: Twelve seasons, comprising 33 episodes, aired between 1987-1993 and 1995-2000.

Production Notes:  Author Colin Dexter started writing his first Morse novel on a family vacation in 1972. Last Bus to Woodstock was published in 1975 and became the first of 13 novels featuring Inspector Morse. In his last Morse novel, 1999's The Remorseful Day, his detective dies from myocardial infarction. Dexter had cameo appearances in 30 of the Inspector Morse TV series episodes. He also appeared in the spin-offs Inspector Lewis and Endeavor. In the books and TV series, Morse remains evasive about his first name--revealing it only once in "Death Is Now My Neighbor" (his father named him Endeavor after Captain James Cook's ship).

Our Review: Our viewing of the first Inspector Morse episode did not make much of an impact. But after enjoying the spin-offs Inspector Lewis and Endeavor, we decided to try again--and that was a good thing. Morse is not an immediately likable character. He's typically grumpy, cynical, and gruff. However, John Thaw's nuanced performance subtly reveals a romantic buried behind the façade. His relationship with Kevin Whately's DS Lewis is what makes the show work. Morse may criticize Lewis for his lack of culture, but the two detectives bring out the best in each other. We also like that Morse is one of the more realistic detectives; he sometimes jumps to conclusions and hones in on the wrong suspect until late in the case. It's also fair to say that the Inspector Morse TV series, along with Dalgliesh, influenced many of the later British detective shows. (All that said, we still prefer Inspector Lewis and Endeavor!)

Grade: B.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Above Suspicion

Premise:  Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly) is a rookie detective constable who works for the Metropolitan  Police. Her middle-aged boss, DCI James Langton (Ciarán Hinds), takes an active interest in Travis, in part because he knew her detective father and in part because he finds her attractive. Anna's first days with the Langton's team are challenging: she throws up at the autopsy and her female colleagues are put off by Anna's choice of work attire (e.g., high heels, tight skirts). Gradually, though, Langton recognizes that Anna is an intelligent investigator with great promise. Her first case involves a serial killer who has murdered women periodically over an eight-year period. The prime suspect is a handsome film actor (Jason Durr), who soon becomes enamored with Anna.

Running Time: 45 minutes.

Status: Four seasons, comprising 11 episodes, aired between 2009 and 2012. The first two seasons can be streamed on Acorn TV.

Production Notes:  Former British actress Lynda La Plante created Above Suspicion, basing the teleplay on the first of her Anna Travis detective novels. La Plante, who is best known as the creator the classic detective series Prime Suspect, has written nine Anna Travis books. In the novels, as well as the series, Travis progresses through the ranks of the Met Police, rising from Detective Constable to Detective Chief Inspector. In a 2011 interview, La Plante compared Travis with Prime Suspect's tough Jane Tennison: "Anna Travis is a fast-track detective, never having been in uniform, and without the discrimination level that Tennison had to deal with. What interested me was that Travis has a university background as opposed to street experience. Gradually, we also see how Anna Travis grows into a formidable female detective and becomes as tough as Tennison."

Our Review:  Above Suspicion is a solid detective series well acted by its cast. Its protagonist, though, makes too many sloppy mistakes in the first episodes--even for a rookie. In one case, she sleeps with a journalist whom she has just met, thus inadvertently giving him the opportunity to read her case notes. Kelly Reilly makes Travis a fresh, appealing character. However, her 24-year age difference with co-star Ciarán Hinds add an Oedipus Complex angle to their characters' sexual attraction.

Grade: B.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


John Simm in the first season.
Premise:  Each season of this miniseries focused on a law enforcement officer who--through circumstances beyond his control--becomes hunted by the Manchester Metropolitan Police. The plots are connected only by DS Susan Reinhardt (Rose Cavaliero), a veteran detective whose frumpy appearance masks her sharp intellect. In the first season, DS Marcus Farrow (John Simm) is framed when his estranged wife and one of his sons is murdered. As his colleagues pursue him relentlessly, Farrow tries to prove his innocence. In the second season, prison security officer David Murdoch (Philip Glenister) is forced into facilitating a prisoner's escape when his pregnant daughter is kidnapped. When the breakout goes wrong, Murdoch becomes the police's prey along with the female prisoner handcuffed to him.

Running Time:  45 minutes.

Status:  Two seasons of three episodes each aired on ITV in 2014-15.

Production Notes: Prey was nominated as Best Miniseries in 2015 by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. John Simm previously starred in the critically-acclaimed mystery series Life on Mars (2006-2007). He portrayed a contemporary police detective knocked unconscious when struck by a car. He awakens to find himself somehow transported back in time to 1973.

Our Review:  Both seasons of Prey stretch credibility by placing their protagonists in far-fetched situations. Still, the first season presents an exciting story grounded by John Simm's excellent performance as a man on the run--who knows how to avoid capture because of his police experience. Philip Glenister makes a compelling lead in the second season, but the plot is riddled with holes and falls apart in the last episode. It doesn't help that too much time is devoted to Reinhardt's personal life (she receives a proposal, gets pregnant, and considers a career change).

Grade: B.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hamish Macbeth

Carlyle with Zippy as Wee Jock.
Premise:  Hamish Macbeth (Robert Carlyle) is the police constable in the rural Scottish town of Lockdubh. He and his wee dog Jock, a Westie, have their hands (and paws) full with maintaining the law among Lockdubh's quirky residents. Of course, sometimes Hamish bends the law himself, such as when he helps Major Maclean improve a poorly-staged fake theft. The young constable's cases range from illegal lobster sales to escaped convicts to murder. On a couple of occasions, Detective Inspector Bruce from Glasgow comes down to lend a hand (though he's not very helpful). Hamish's closest friend, TV John McIver, has the gift of second sight at times. Hamish is in love with novelist Alexandra "Alex" Maclean, but he also harbors feelings for Isobel Sutherland, a reporter for The Lochdubh Listener (and she is obviously smitten with Hamish).

Running Time:  50 minutes.

Status:  Hasmish Macbeth ran for three season from 1995-97, comprising a total of 20 episodes. It can streamed on Acorn TV.

Production Notes: Hamish Macbeth was based on a series of novels written by M.C. Beaton (a pseudonym for Marion Chesney). Beaton introduced the character in Death of a Gossip in 1985 and has written 34 Hamish Macbeth novels as of 2017. Beaton has also written several other book series, including the Agatha Raison mysteries. Robert Carlyle was on the cusp of stardom when he first played Hamish in 1995. He subsequently gained fame in Trainspotting (1996) and The World Is Not Enough (1999). Today, he may best be known as Rumpelstiltskin in the long-running American TV series Once Upon a Time. Two episodes from the first season of Hamish Macbeth were written by Danny Boyle, who later directed Trainspotting (starring Carlyle) and won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire.

Our Review:  Hamish Macbeth is not a traditional detective show, with some episodes focusing solely on Hamish's attempts to resolve conflicts among the town's residents. While the general tone is laidback, there are serious episodes such as "A Bit of an Epic," in which a team-building mountain climb turns deadly. Robert Carlyle is excellent in the lead role and grounds the show when it borders on becoming too eccentric. Shirley Henderson is delightful as Isobel and her character's longing for Hamish provide the series' emotional core. Danny Boyle wrote one of the best episodes, "Wee Jock's Lament," in which the death of Hamish's dog closes and opens doors in the lives of several people. Incidentally, the season 1 episode "West Coast Story," which features a local production of West Side Story, was omitted from some of the DVD sets because of copyright issues. It can be viewed on Acorn TV.

Grade: B+.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Loch Ness

Laura Fraser and Siobhan Finneran.
Premise:  A kids' prank goes wrong in the small Scottish town of Lochnafoy when the supposed remains of the Loch Ness Monster include a human brain. Things get worse when the dead body of a local music teacher is found at the foot of Carn Mohr Mountain--and it's missing a brain. DCI Lauren Quigley and forensic psychologist Blake Albrighton soon arrive from Glasgow to take over the investigation. Quigley quickly learns to rely on Detective Sergeant Annie Redford, whose knowledge of the town and its residents compensates for her inexperience with homicides. When another murder is discovered, Quigley (Siobhan Finneran) and Redford (Laura Fraser) begin to suspect it's the work of a serial killer. There are certainly plenty of viable suspects, to include: an ex-convict who served twenty years for two violent murders; a young man secretly sedated by his mother; and the arrogant head of the local college, who keeps videotaped interviews of his students. Will Quigley and Redford find the killer before he or she strikes again? And who is that corpse at the bottom of the loch?

Running Time:  45 minutes.

Status:  Six episodes aired in 2017. It can be streamed on Acorn TV.

Production Notes: Stephen Brady, who wrote Loch Ness, is no stranger to the mystery genre. He previously wrote episodes of Vera, Taggart, Silent Witness, and Fortitude. The cast also features TV mystery veterans Siobhan Finneran (Happy Valley) and Laura Fraser (The Missing). The latter is probably best known for her work on the U.S. cable series Breaking Bad. Note that Loch Ness is also known under the title The Loch.

Our Review:  If you were a fan of Broadchurch, you'll love this brooding tale that works as an engrossing mystery as well as a portrait of a small town ravaged by violent deaths. The likable Redford and the cold Quigley counterbalance each other nicely, with Finneran and Fraser both delivering strong performances. However, Don Gilet almost steals the show with his portrayal of a police consultant/celebrity author still battling demons from his past. The intricate plotting will keep most viewers guessing about the killer's identify until the final episode (although one loose end is not tied up). The Scottish scenery, accentuated by dark gray skies, contributes mightily to the atmosphere.

Grade: A.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Premise:  Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald is a chain-smoking alcoholic with gambling debts and a looming divorce from his long-suffering wife. He berates colleagues, defies authority figures, and struggles as a parent. However, Fitz (Robbie Coltrane) is also a brilliant psychologist that can probe into the darkness of the criminal mind--a skill that has made him invaluable to the Greater Manchester Police. He first gets involved in police investigations when a former student is murdered and the victim's mother asks for his help. After Fitz discovers the identity of the killer, DCI David Bilborough keeps him on a retainer for consultation services. Fitz and Bilborough frequently clash, such as when the DCI asks Fitz not to discuss a murder and the psychologist does so on a nationally televised talk show. Fitz sometimes works with DS Jane Penhaligon (Geraldine Somerville) and they eventually become lovers.

Running Time: 50-120 minutes. Most of the cases span multiple episodes.

Status:  Cracker ran for five seasons comprised of 25 episodes. Seasons 1-4 were shown in 1993-1996. The final "season" consisted of a single episode shown in 2006. The series can be streamed on Acorn TV and is also available on DVD in the U.S.

Production Notes:  Cracker is an acclaimed television series that earned Robbie Coltrane three consecutive BAFTA Awards as Best Actor (1994-96). The series also won as Best Drama in 1995 and 1996. Screenwriter Jimmy McGovern, who created Cracker, won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America for his work on the show. In 1997, Cracker was adapted for U.S. television with Robert Pastorelli in the title role. That series only lasted 16 episodes.

Our Review: Cracker is not a traditional detective show. As in Columbo, the murderer is often revealed to the audience in the first installment of a multi-episode case. The plot then shifts back and forth between the investigative team and the criminal--with subplots focusing on Fitz's personal life. Cracker features strong acting and quality scripts, but it's a dark TV series that may not appeal to those who enjoy escapist detective fare. Personally, I found it grim and depressing--and more character study than mystery.

Grade: B+.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Mark McManus as DCI Taggart.
Premise:  "I live with murder. It's ugly. It's cold," says Jim Taggart, a savvy, no-nonsense detective chief inspector in Glasgow. Taggart is a blue-collar policeman, having worked his way through the ranks. He knows Glasgow, having grown up there (and often refers to it as "my city"). He's not an easy man to work with and his detective sergeants have to show their mettle to earn his trust. Taggart's college-educated wife Jean is wheelchair-bound, a result of paralysis during childbirth. Their adult daughter Alison works as a hospital nurse. In the series' first episode in 1983, Peter Livingstone is introduced as Taggart's new detective sergeant. Over the years, Taggart has had different detective sergeants. Actor Mark McManus died in 1994, with his last appearance as Taggart being in the 1995 episode "Prayer for the Dead." The Taggart TV series continued without for 16 more seasons, with other characters being the primary investigators.

Running Time:  Varied from 60 to 125 minutes.

Status:  An impressive 27 seasons of 110 episodes broadcast between 1983 and 2010. They're available on DVD in the U.S. (though the titles can be confusing, e.g., Taggart - Set 1 is not from the first season). Some of the episodes can be streamed on Acorn TV.

Production Notes: In a 2011 interview, series creator Glenn Chandler said: "I'd been putting on plays at the old Soho Poly when I was asked to create a series about a Glasgow detective. When I pointed out that I actually came from Edinburgh, I asked if I could set the series there. But on grounds of cost, it had to be set in Glasgow. So I took a crash-course in Glasgow speak, doing my research by hanging around in bars. But there'd still be moments when I'd be told that what I'd written was pure Edinburgh and it needed translating into Glasgwegian."

Our Review:  Like its original lead character, Taggart is a straightforward detective series that offers little that's unique beyond its gray Glasgow setting. To its credit, the mystery plots hold interest thanks to a plethora of suspects and red herrings. Overall, one's enjoyment of the series will hinge on one's acceptance of the lead characters. Personally, we grew a little tired of DCI Taggart (and admittedly have not watched the episodes without him).

Grade: B (McManus episodes only).

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Great Train Robbery

Luke Evans as Bruce Reynolds.
Premise:  On August 8, 1963, Bruce Richard Reynolds masterminded the biggest heist in British history when he and 14 others stole £2.6 million from a Royal Mail Train. To put his crime in perspective, that haul would be worth approximately £51 million today. The Great Train Robbery, a 2013 miniseries, covers the the crime's preparation, execution, and investigation in two parts. The first half, subtitled A Robber's Tale, introduces Reynolds (Luke Evans) as a criminal more interested in the challenge of the crime--and the camaraderie with his follow robbers--than in the loot. Reynolds' meticulous planning pays off when the heist is executed almost to perfection. However, the aftermath is filled with unforeseen events and careless mistakes. The minseries' second half, A Copper's Tale, focuses on the investigation by Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler and the Flying Squad (a special robbery division in London's Metropolitan Police). A shrewd loner nicknamed "One Day" for his success in nabbing criminals, Butler (Jim Broadbent) navigates political interference as he pushes his team to follow up every lead and capture all 15 gang members.

Running Time: 180 minutes (two 90-minute parts).

Status:  It originally aired on the BBC in December 2013. It's available on DVD in the U.S. and can be streamed on Acorn TV.

Production Notes:  Robert Ryan's 2010 novel Signal Red, which was based on the real-life crime, served as the basis for the miniseries. Several of the robbers and the coppers wrote autobiographies, to include Crossing the Line: The Autobiography of a Thief (1995) by Bruce Reynolds and No Fixed Address (1973) by Butler's deputy, Detective Inspector Frank Williams. (Spoiler alert!) Reynolds eluded capture for five years before Butler tracked him down, spending much of that time in Mexico and Canada. He served 10 years in prison, a shorter sentence than many of the others caught earlier. Two of his fellow criminals, Ronald Biggs and Charlie Wilson, escaped from prison. Wilson was eventually caught, but Biggs underwent plastic surgery and settled in Brazil where he could not be extradited. At age 71, he voluntarily returned to Great Britain--and was promptly arrested again. Incidentally, singer Phil Collins played gang member Buster Edwards in the 1988 film Buster.

Our Review: The first half of The Great Train Robbery is a breezy caper film grounded by Luke Evans' compelling portrayal of the fascinating Reynolds. It would have been nice to get to know some of the other characters better, but there are too many of them and the compact 90-minute running time doesn't have a minute to spare. The second half slows down the pace, as befits Butler's methodical investigation. The detective, superbly played by Broadbent, remains something of an enigma, though his dedication to pursuing justice is never in doubt. Although The Great Train Robbery is a first-rate affair, it does glorify Reynolds and his colleagues, glossing over the more violent aspects of the crime. In real life, train conductor Jack Mills experienced a traumatic brain injury as a result of being struck by one of the gang.

Grade: A-.