SARAH VINE’s My TV week: Dark and brooding or light and fluffy… TV crime pays

SARAH VINE's My TV week: Dark and brooding or light and fluffy... TV crime pays 2
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McDONALD & DODDS/SUSPECT SUNDAY, ITV/SUNDAY, CHANNEL 4

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Rating:

TV schedules are a dangerous place. Primetime is littered with corpses, usually of attractive young women, and you can barely turn on the telly without encountering some crumpled, washed-up detective with personal issues. 

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And yet we can’t seem to get enough of it: when it comes to ratings, crime pays. This week offered up two very different interpretations of the genre. The first, ITV’s McDonald & Dodds, is a thoroughly engaging mash-up in the tradition of classic British series such as Midsomer Murders. 

The second, Channel 4’s Suspect, is a brooding affair reminiscent of Scandi-noir successes like Wallander and The Killing. 

I confess I thoroughly enjoyed both. Suspect is a savoury experience and McDonald & Dodds more of a deliciously light and fluffy tiramisu, but together they made a satisfying serving of detective drama.

In Suspect, James Nesbitt (pictured) plays a man not so much broken as shattered to smithereens. The scene is set in the opening credits, as one by one the stellar cast – Joely Richardson, Ben Miller, Richard E Grant, Anne-Marie Duff – stare gloomily into the camera

In Suspect, James Nesbitt (pictured) plays a man not so much broken as shattered to smithereens. The scene is set in the opening credits, as one by one the stellar cast – Joely Richardson, Ben Miller, Richard E Grant, Anne-Marie Duff – stare gloomily into the camera

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Sarah (pictured) says Suspect and McDonald and Dodds are a satisfying serving of detective drama

Sarah (pictured) says Suspect and McDonald and Dodds are a satisfying serving of detective drama 

In Suspect, James Nesbitt plays a man not so much broken as shattered to smithereens. The scene is set in the opening credits, as one by one the stellar cast – Joely Richardson, Ben Miller, Richard E Grant, Anne-Marie Duff – stare gloomily into the camera.

The message is clear: not a lorra laughs here. Soon Nesbitt is straining every emotion as his character, detective Danny Frater (above), discovers his estranged daughter on the mortician’s slab during a routine ID check. 

Who knew so many layers of pain could become visible all at once on one man’s face: it’s a superb piece of acting. There follows a slow unfolding of horrors, as the grieving father delves deeper into the life of his lost child. 

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It’s tense, complex, confusing, and the direction is intense. The whole of the first episode, for example, takes place in a single location, the mortician’s lab, father and daughter trapped below ground in a hell of their own making. 

Sarah said McDonald & Dodds is a thoroughly engaging mash-up in the tradition of classic British series such as Midsomer Murders

Sarah said McDonald & Dodds is a thoroughly engaging mash-up in the tradition of classic British series such as Midsomer Murders

So many layers of pain became visible at once on one man’s face 

It’s clever and very compelling. I binged four episodes. Still, I needed something to take away the bitter aftertaste of Suspect, and McDonald & Dodds was just the thing.

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 Now in its third series, it stars Jason Watkins, an actor I’ve loved since he played an uppity vampire in BBC3’s Being Human, as DS Dodds. His bookish persona is the perfect foil to Tala Gouveia’s dynamic DCI McDonald (far left, with Dodds).

Like Suspect, it’s cliched in its own way. ‘What’s he done now?’ tuts a suspect’s mother as the cops arrive. ‘He’s definitely hiding something,’ says McDonald, stating the bleeding obvious. Yet I happily watched to the end, when the culprit was revealed in an Agatha Christie-style around-the-kitchen-table scenario. You know what they say: if it ain’t broke…

  • A couple of weeks ago I tuned in, as ever, to watch Antiques Roadshow and was a bit grumpy when I was served up Top Gear (Sunday, BBC1) instead. But I was pleasantly surprised. Turns out watching three blokes – Paddy McGuinness, Andrew Flintoff and someone called Chris who seems to act as their mum – driving around in vintage cop cars (the actual Jaguar Mark 2 from Morse, Magnum PI’s Ferrari) is tremendous fun. By the time Freddie Flintoff was bowling over hillocks in a Ford Raptor before heading off to Norway to make a Sinclair C5 go more than 60mph, my inner ladette was hooked.

 Go mud for it… at home!

Sarah Vine said she went to Glastonbury when it was not televised but says that now it can be watched this weekend with wall-to-wall coverage from the BBC

Sarah Vine said she went to Glastonbury when it was not televised but says that now it can be watched this weekend with wall-to-wall coverage from the BBC 

I went to Glastonbury once, about a million years ago. Back then it wasn’t televised and there was no media (probably a blessing, all things considered), so you actually had to show up if you wanted to see your favourite bands. Now you can enjoy it from the comfort of your own sofa, thanks in no small part to the BBC, who this weekend are providing wall-to-wall coverage – and upgrading it to BBC1 for the first time ever. All the gain, none of the pain.

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A SUNNY SLICE OF CARRIBEAN CULTURE 

LENNY HENRY’S CARIBBEAN BRITAIN WEDNESDAY, BBC 2

Rating:

Lenny Henry's new show educated Sarah on concepts such as the origins of the Notting Hill Carnival, rent parties and ska

Lenny Henry’s new show educated Sarah on concepts such as the origins of the Notting Hill Carnival, rent parties and ska 

Like many people who grew up with Lenny Henry as a comedy staple on screen, in recent years I’ve had to get used to the new, slimmer – and much more serious – Henry. And you know something? After watching this, I think I quite like him.

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I found this a real education (or ‘heducation’, as Henry’s formidable mother might have put it, in the way she encouraged him to ‘hintegrate’ growing up in 1970s Dudley), not least because it introduced me to so many wonderful characters and concepts I’d never even heard of.

I knew about people like Lord Kitchener, the calypsonian who sang ‘London is the place for me/London, this lovely city’, but I had never heard of Cy Grant, who would set current affairs to music on the Tonight show in the 1950s, or Edric Connor, the first black actor to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

I learnt about ska, rent parties, Lord Tropical the Soundmaster (a particularly brutal sound system), the origins of the Notting Hill Carnival (left), Carmen Munroe, Prince Buster, Paul Dash and many more.

Inevitably, there were some uncomfortable moments for those of us of a Caucasian persuasion – the Notting Hill race riots, footage of skinhead thugs – but there was far more celebration than rancour here, and the whole thing was shot through with typical Caribbean good humour – and, of course, that familiar raucous laugh.

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