TRAIN CRASH TELLY
Thrilling new TV crime series are as rare as sunshine during the British summer (the channels are obviously hoarding their best stuff for autumn and winter), but there are a couple of good things coming up.
The seventh series of ITV's Law & Order: UK should hit the schedules soon and, having seen the opener, I must say it gets off to an explosive start.
A train in Streatham is caught in a huge crash, caused by a car abandoned on the tracks, with the result that 15 people are killed.
Paul Nicholls, who plays DS Casey and will leave the show during this series, nearly saves a young boy passenger, and is tilted into a rage when he fails. This has big implications at the end of the episode.
When an alcoholic is brought before the court, the trial swings on his mental state – was his mind 'abnormal' at the time, or did he just selfishly and recklessly cause mass deaths and grief.
As with the best episodes of L&O: UK (and the US original, of course), the story is wrapped in ambiguities and hard truths. Personally, I often enjoy these dramas, which are tautly written and present viewers with issues that are rarely clear cut – and this two-part opener is written by one of the UK series' best scriptwriters, Emilia di Girolamo.
Oh, and two new faces join the cast – Paterson Joseph is Ronnie and Sam's new boss, DI Layton, while Georgia Taylor joins the legal bods as Kate Barker.
HAPPY EVER AFTER FOR LUTHER?
Luther is also looming. BBC1's third series, a four-parter, kicks off with a twisted fetishist murdering women.
Well, what did you expect from a drama that has more in common with the horror genre than crime. Masked maniacs, creaking houses, dark rooms – and a cop who is almost as barking as mad Alice the psycho killer? (And it would seem Ruth Wilson is going to make a spectacular return in this series – well, there's a lovely picture of her on the Beeb press site, anyway.)
Luther is a bit lurid for some tastes – its fixation on fiendish serial killer masterminds does leave me cold (though the violence on the screen is nothing compared to the horrors in the novelisation, The Calling). However, the show's creator Neil Cross is a master at turning up the tension, and Idris Elba is one of the most electric presences on TV anywhere.
The actor does give away one new storyline – 'We introduce a new character, George Stark this series,' he says. 'Set up as Luther’s arch nemesis, he’s a formidable character played by David O’Hara, who’s a really good actor. There are some interesting scenes where Luther is being challenged and George is so in Luther’s face. Also Erin Gray sides with George and goes for Luther. It’s a great storyline and a great part for David, and I think fans might get a thrill out of watching Luther be handled like this.'
There is also a neat twist as Sienna Guillory joins the cast as Mary Day. It seems this beauty will catch the eye of Luther, who will fall heavily for her.
Oh dear. What will Alice say?
When it comes to serial killers, Dexter is much more fun. The Jeff Lindsay books and the series are as gory as Luther, but they are also devilishly clever – mixing satire and subversion quite brilliantly in the character of this cold-blooded killer pretending to be like us normal folk.
Sadly, though, the end is nigh. Fox UK will start showing series eight, the last one ever, from 7 July, just a week after it goes out in the US.
The previous series ended on an epic cliff-hanger. Dexter's sister, Deb, having learned of her half-brother's secret life as a killer of serial killers, was faced with the choice of shooting LaGuerta, their boss, who was finally onto Dexter, or killing Dexter. She chose to shoot LaGuerta, sending the impending season into one hell of a finale.
Michael C Hall, Jennifer Carpenter and the rest of the cast have been superb and will be sorely missed. But the show could only go on for so long without dulling its edge, and some of the season's have been better than others. Now's a good time to cut and run, but it will fascinating to see what the writers come up with for Dexter…
ANOTHER ITALIAN JOB
I've been sent a couple of episodes of an Italian crime series called Inspector Nardone, which has been going out on a quiet little cable/satellite channel called True Movies. Set in post-war Milan, the series is based on a true-life figure, a kind of Italian Eliot Ness, who pulled a squad together and took on corrupt figures at the Questura.
It's a nice little series, and like BBC4's Montalbano offers a light-hearted, at times romantic look at Italy, only this one is of the hard-up period after the war. A moustachioed Sergio Assisi plays the crusading cop, the women are beautiful and the food looks marvellous – funny how Italian-set series make you want to jet out there immediately, but Nordic shows don't have the same effect.
Can't say I'm that excited about DCI Banks coming back. Does anybody really enjoy Stephen Tompkinson's dour detective, who always looks as though he couldn't locate the haemorrhoid cream before coming to work, a depiction that bears little relation to the hero in Peter Robinson's novels. There have been some standout British series this year – Broadchurch, The Fall, for instance – dramas full of intriguing characters and well-developed stories. DCI Banks, in comparison, offers nothing fresh or interesting. Strictly one for the Stephen Tompkinson Fan Club.
CRIME THRILLER AWARDS
ITV3, the channel that shows the Crime Thriller Awards each autumn, has put out an APB for crime TV experts and fans. They're producing their usual raft of programmes to complement the awards, showcasing the best crime dramas around, and plan to film some devotees and enthusiasts of ITV series such as Vera, Miss Marple, Broadchurch, Inspector Morse, Taggart or Midsomer Murders. So book club members, bloggers, fan club aficionados and the like should put themselves forward. One possible item being considered is pitting the fans against the scriptwriters of a series in a mini quiz. If you'd like to be considered, contact Roxanne at Cactus TV at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IS THERE NO JUSTICE?
I'm always banging on about Justified, but it amazes me that this terrific US series, drawn from an Elmore Leonard character, passes by so quietly each year. Series four is moving towards another superb conclusion on 5USA, admittedly not a cable/satellite network noted for its outstanding programmes – but Justified is the channel's gem.
Timothy Olyphant, who may be familiar to some from Deadwood, is very cool (as you'd expect for an Elmore Leonard hero) as the rather trigger-happy deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens. The setting of Harlan County, Kentucky, is fresh and unusual, and populated by some great villains.
This latest series has a long story arc, concerning a 30-year mystery involving a body falling from the sky, a missing hoard of drugs and a man in hiding who saw a Detroit mob hit on a Federal witness.Justified is something different – it's not a cop procedural or a dull whodunit. It's a character-rich drama with slick action and dry, dry wit. What else would you expect from a series inspired by the works of Elmore Leonard?
A FINAL TAK
The first Nordicana, held in Clerkenwell, London, last week was an enjoyable celebration of The Killing, Arne Dahl, Wallander, Borgen and all those Scandi thrillers and series we never knew we liked until 2011, when BBC4 introduced us to Sarah Lund.
One thing the two-day event of screenings and panels with authors and actors showed us was the Nordic invaders have settled in nicely with UK readers and viewers. The screening I attended for Arne Dahl, which has quietly built a devoted following on BBC4, was rammed with fans. It will be interesting to see if this was the first of many Nordicanas.
Robin Jarossi is the editor of CrimeTimePreview.com
Photo Credits: BBC, ITV, Fox, C5