Thursday, 23 May 2013

Dear ITV, can we have more Murder on the Home Front please?

Snappy dialogue, humour, intrigue, fine acting, a moral dilemma, period setting… Murder on the Home Front delivered a heady combination of all those, but above the lot, for me, was the humour, often provided in varying degrees of black.

If you were in any doubt, the last shot was of our heroes dancing in the morgue, while in the foreground of the shot was a corpse. Not the usual heart warming or thought provoking finale you come to expect from a crime drama.

When I started watching the sadly-only-two-episodes-long drama I was expecting something far more generic, being a cynical idiot that I am. A crime drama in a period setting might be the kind of show that sounds like a ratings winner on paper, firing up the excitement level of TV execs, but it hardly raises this viewer's expectation levels. But in practice, the show was thoroughly entertaining, a quality maybe sometimes underrated in drama, with writers sometimes sidetracked into wrong-footing the audience with twists or gore if it's a crime drama.

Admittedly, the setting - a Home Office forensic department in a heavily bombed London during the Second World War - did provide a high body count, with corpses strewn everywhere. The leads - Dr Lennox Collins and his new assistant and ex-journalist Molly Cooper - were backed with some equally well drawn and, yes, fun characters. Even the police escaped a 'dull, plodding' style characterisation, grudgingly accepting the methods of Dr Collins and providing comic relief without resorting to buffoonery. And it'd be remiss of me to omit a mention of the highly amusing crime photographer Issy Quennell.

Another sign that we were in safe hands was the drama getting under the skin of the period setting. While characters often pooh-poohed the air raid sirens to gather vital evidence to save the condemned man, there was still a palpable sense of peril from the air raids. Speaking of peril, despite (or because) of the laughs, we were left with five minutes of the final episode without being sure of the fate of the falsely condemned man and that's fairly uncommon.

It even managed to subvert (SPOILERS) a cliche or two, with Molly not requiring saving in the final confrontation after all, delivering the blow that knocked out the murderer.

But dammit, it was the snappy dialogue and humour that really set the drama apart. It'd be a crime (ho ho) if Murder on the Home Front doesn't return. In the paraphrased words of the mortuary assistant, trying to dissuade the two heroes from going on a dangerous expedition onto the streets of London: "Don't get yourselves killed, I'm become rather fond of you."

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Paul Abbott brings cop comedy drama to Channel 4

Hot on the heels of BBC One's announcement last week, Channel 4 has thrown its hat into the drama series ring with a new commission from the 'Utopia' broadcaster, announced yesterday (Tuesday 14th May) by chief creative office Jay Hunt.

The BAFTA winning Paul Abbott is heading up an eight part comedy drama, 'No Offence'. Centring on a police station on 'the wrong side of Manchester', it promises to be sharp, shocking, funny and a fresh take on the police procedural. If he manages that then hats off, but looking at Abbott's CV - Shameless, State of Play, Clocking Off - then it seems a fair bet he'll do just that.

According to The Independent, Abbott's recently concluded 'Shameless' - also on Channel 4 - spawned a US remake and C4 is hoping for similar overseas success with 'No Offence'. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

Confession time: I've never even seen a single episode of 'Shameless', but I was a big fan of 'State of Play' - which too led to a overseas remake, only in film form. While 'No Offence' clearly will be closer in tone to Shameless than SOP, that's enough for me to rub my TV watching hands with expectation. Or something like that. 'TV watching hands'? You don't get word combinations like that on other blogs. And yes that is a selling point for this blog. Honest guv. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Bletchley sleuths returning to ITV

Ever wondered what happened to all the brilliant minds breaking codes at Bletchley Park during the Second World War? They turned to crime solving and now they've got a second series.

The series - The Bletchley Circle - is not quite as daft as I've made it sound and it's an intriguing premise. Bound by the Official Secrets Act to stay silent about what they did 'during the war', even keeping the secret from husbands and family, a group of women found themselves, often unwillingly, solving a series of murders for the original short series.

This time around we have four new episodes, split between two stories, set one year on in 1953. Hattie Morahan joins the core cast of Anna Maxwell Martin, Rachael Stirling, Sophie Rundle and Julie Graham.

And what has compelled the team to reunite in their crime solving spare time? A former Bletchley Park colleague is accused of murder and set to hang for her crime. But did she shoot a distinguished scientist through the heart, despite being found holding a smoking gun over his body?

According to ITV The Bletchley Circle received a high audience share of 23 per cent in 2012 - running second to Endeavour amongst new drama titles. Ratings hit an average of 5.6m and it was reviewed well in the US too, we're told - PBS broadcast it in the Sunday night slot alongside Call The Midwife and Mr Selfridge. Looks like British TV really is aiming to wrap up the whole costume drama sector.

Friday, 10 May 2013

BBC One looks to the past for new drama line-up

With the consensus saying that ITV has upped its game in the world of TV drama, what does the BBC have up its ample sleeve in response?

Yesterday (Thursday 9th May) BBC One revealed four new drama commissions, made by outgoing BBC One Controller Danny Cohen. All four are set in the past, which is frankly only going to encourage those pundits saying viewers need some nostalgia to get us through these tough economic times.

First up, the channel has got nostalgia and costume drama safely covered with Poldark. Poldark has already been adapted for TV back in the '70s - before the time of Not The Chap in Dracula, of course - so no preconceptions here. Six hour long episodes will cover the romantic saga set in the late 18th century Cornwall. If, like us, you don't know the story it covers Ross Poldark returning from war expecting a loving reunion with his family, but instead finding his home has gone to rack and ruin, his fiancee has got engaged to his cousin thinking him dead… I hate it when that happens.

The works of Dickens have been successfully mined in the worlds of TV and film, but the next project - 'Dickensian' - comes from the pen/quill/keyboard of TV genius Tony Jordan, behind the ITV Moving Wallpaper/Echo Beach experiment, co-creator of Life on Mars and the man behind Hustle. Typically, Dickensian won't be a simple adaptation but a multi-part series told over half-hour instalments. Characters from Dickens books will meet one another 'in the most surprising of ways', says the BBC press release. Meta.

Next up we move back to the present, almost. Three 60 minute episodes of 'From There to Here' will cover the aftermath of the Arndale bombing in Manchester in the '90s. Pitched as a family saga and covering the aforementioned IRA bombing, the blurb says it will be funny and moving, so we're guessing it will be light on the crime procedural side. Sounds good already, to be honest.

Finally there's 'Our Zoo', covering the true story of the man who created Chester Zoo in the 1930s and the impact it had on his family. That's another six episode series and combining a period setting with animals, a la All Creatures Great and Small. A damn sensible move.

So, there you have it. What do make of that?