Back in 2013 the Beeb had a go at capturing the Scandi noir spirit with a drama set slightly closer to home than the usual Sweden/ Denmark heartland. When I say slightly, I mean only very slightly because this dark drama is set in Shetland. They might speak the language and you can fly to Glasgow in 90 minutes, but the place has much more in common with Scandinavia than Scotland. Famously the islands didn’t become part of Scotland until the 15th century and that remoteness lingers in the traditions and the outlook of the people.
This independent, resourceful spirit was on show in the continuing adventures of DI Jimmy Perez (Douglas Henshall) and his small but dedicated team of police. They may be renegades in the classic detective style but only because they have to be. They don’t have the same resources as a larger police station so if a conflict of interest happens (which you’d imagine must be pretty frequent in a small community) they still have to knuckle down and investigate.
The tiny police station where young and old, experienced and newbie have to work together in close quarters fosters a great on-screen bond and a warm fondness for the characters. Jimmy and Tosh (Alison O’Donnell) look like an odd pairing but they’re great together. The set-up in BBC4’s Trapped reminded me of this in all the right ways.
Series 1 and Series 2 (broadcast in 2014) were straight adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ novels, two-parters that tied up nicely and left time for the viewer to meet more of the local characters and explore the islands with Jimmy and Tosh. The traditional Shetland wedding in Dead Water was really lovely and the Up Helly Aa fire festival in Red Bones was a magnificent backdrop to dramatic tensions. The storylines play out like a cross between an Agatha Christie novel (Who dunnit?) and Lonely Planet (5 places you must visit to see the natural beauty of Shetland).
So I’m sad to say that Series 3 (which began in January 2016) has really flagged. Over six episodes there was no disguising the flabby, overly complicated story. I completely lost interest in the witness protection angle, which was inconvenient as that was pretty much the crux of the matter. Only when Tosh was (briefly)in danger did I decide I’d better see it through. The shorter story format worked much better, and I think it’s clear that Series 3 was only based on characters by Ann Cleeves, and not one of her books.
“By being over six episodes, you can really get your teeth into it,” explains Julie Graham, who plays Rhona Kelly. “I think it’s a strong storyline as it’s about corruption at the heart of the powers that be and that’s what I really liked about it.” True, but it took ages for that storyline to be revealed and the toing and froing to Glasgow made me think that Shetland isn’t really about Shetland anymore. It’s in serious danger of losing its uniqueness and becoming a slightly more windswept version of Rebus or Taggart with a longer commute.
And that would be a shame, because if they can keep the focus on Shetland I’d be very happy to watch Series 4. Otherwise I don’t think I’ll bother.