CHRISTOPHER STEVENS Reviews The Weekend’s TV: Two Hours Of Splatter, But DS Pirie Is Barely Closer To Closing Case
Blame the VHS player. Before the boom in home video machines in the 1980s, murder mysteries never lasted more than two hours.
It wasn’t until the launch of Inspector Morse in 1987 that movie-length episodes became the norm – when ITV bosses rightly suspected that, with many viewers recording shows to watch later, two hours wasn’t too long.
The experiment turned out to be too successful. Now, the bulk of the channel’s crime series consists of 120-minute slogs, including ads. And most don’t deserve it.
Some of the recent efforts, like Professor T with Ben Miller or Roger Allam’s Murder In Provence, are just baggy. The characters are too light and the plot too thin to support us a football game plus extra time.
Others, like Ridley earlier this month, demand relentless pruning. I’d cut all of Adrian Dunbar’s buzz from the nightclub for starters.
For very different reasons, Karen Pirie (ITV) – a three-part series following a cold case investigation – also ill-suited for the extra-long format. It’s a strong story, with an instantly likable lead character, the inexperienced but capable detective sergeant played by Lauren Lyle.
Lauren Lyle as DS Karen Pirie. Karen Pirie (ITV) — a three-part series following a cold case study — also ill-suited for an extra-long format
The script is based on a novel by the queen of Scottish noir, Val McDermid, and is bursting with dialogue that evokes strong reactions. When a drunken villain roars into the night sky, “I just want to hurt someone,” we have no doubt that he’s going to do just that – making the violence that follows all the more visceral.
And it’s immediately apparent how deeply the top of the Corps is steeped in cynicism when DS Pirie is chosen to reopen the high-profile murder hunt. A sexist senior officer remarks: ‘I think it would help the optics if it was a female officer. . . ‘
Emer Kenny’s adaptation, who also stars as Pirie’s best buddy River, deftly handles flashbacks. The story fluctuates between the murder of a barmaid in 1996 and the lives of the suspects 25 years later.
This double-barrelled storytelling hasn’t been done so well since Unforgotten, with Nicola Walker. But part of the reason Unforgotten was so good is that it followed a single investigation — in hour-long episodes.
Karen Pirie is also a single story, but it’s exhausting to break it down into three two-hour sections. We don’t get the satisfaction of solving a complex mystery. Instead, we spend an entire Sunday night building to a cliffhanger ending.
The solution is simple, I think. Karen Pirie is excellent, the best new police series of this year. To really enjoy it, all we have to do is record each part and watch it for two nights, like we did with Morse.
James Nesbitt (left), who plays Tom Brannick, and Charlene McKenna (right), who plays Niamh McGovern, in Bloodlands
However, Bloodlands (BBC1) knows how to divide his pie. James Nesbitt’s outrageous tale of a Belfast police killer is spread over six gripping hour-long parts, each digestible enough to keep us on our toes. Wherever DCI Tom Brannick goes, a mob of armed police await his orders. This time half of them were in black combat suits like Ninja warriors and the rest in furry camouflage suits, crawling through the landscape of Northern Ireland like green yetis.
Nesbitt amuses himself and puts on a chilly look that takes on a psycho glow as his eyes roll into their sockets.
Pompous macho and self-assured alpha male, he’s great at looking worried but bluffing it every time he realizes he may have betrayed himself. Bloodlands is schlock, but it is addictive schlock.