Guys, there’s been a murder! But fear not; it’s mid-afternoon on BBC1 so there’s no blood, no swearing and no one speaking Danish. Armchair Detectives is 100% safe for the squeamish. It’s a very unusual format, a quiz show Cluedo with Susan Calman as presenter and lead investigator. 15 members of the public sit jury-style as the studio audience from which three are picked each day to have their turn as the titular detectives. They are invited up to the drawing-room style stage to sit in fancy leather armchairs and work out whodunnit. The only person who doesn’t get to sit is Susan, despite having a chair placed behind her, which seems unfair given her legs must have taken a battering in the run-up to Strictly Come Dancing.
The contestants are all chatty and intelligent, and are probably the last people you want to watch Prime Suspect with as they’ll have smugly figured it all out at least 20 minutes before the credits roll. And they’ll smile and say “aha!” and make you feel like a berk. Our first team of three include a librarian who loves the Lord Peter Wimsey books, a crime writer, and one is actually called Wisdom. I expect great things.
Mortcliff is our fictional setting – a seaside town somewhere in Scotland made up of a strange cast of characters (a lovelorn psychic fisherman is one of the suspects in episode 1). The actors are about as emotionally engaging as a bad episode of Doctors but it’s daytime BBC1 so you shouldn’t really be expecting Dame Diana Rigg. The contestants watch video clips and have a choice of evidence to view plus set pieces featuring the extremely not funny detectives and a few bits from the victim’s life leading up to the murder; nothing very juicy or conclusive, of course. There’s plenty of information in pretty decent sized chunks, the names of characters on screen, and reminders restated repeatedly for the slow kids in the back. So really it’s exactly the right speed for those of us lulled into lethargy by the usual more mindless offerings on daytime tv.
Susan Calman is a decent presenter, holding this odd format together nicely. She’s very likable, and chipper about solving the mystery. She lets slip early on that she has a qualification in forensic medicine “and look at me now”. She’s also got a background in law, so it’s a blend of her old day job and her current one. Armchair Detectives is an intriguing show, despite being cheap-looking and pretty daft if you give it any real thought. The oohs and aaahs from the studio audience add to the enthusiasm in the room and it’s very much designed for the viewer to play along at home. Which, like me, you probably think you can resist. Spoilers: you can’t.
Armchair Detectives is on daily on BBC1 at 2:15pm and will be on iPlayer for catch up.