‘The ABC Murders’ – BBC1

Spoiler warning: details about the murderer lie below!

Mustache-twirling Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is a beloved character in literature, in cinema and on TV. Recently he’s been re-imagined as a Hollywood action hero by Kenneth Branagh in a slightly strange but ultimately well-received version of Murder on the Orient Express. So now to the BBC’s Christmas drama schedules, a big part of which has been Agatha Christie adaptations by Sarah Phelps. Over the past few years she’s brought us Ordeal by Innocence, And Then There Were None and Witness for the Prosecution. Ginger and restrained adaptations are not Phelp’s style. How do you rip up the rule book but stay true to the source material?

It turns out all you need to do is wait. The passage of time makes characters different people, more fragile and sympathetic, more human. John Malkovich portrays the great detective as a weary yesterday’s man – the ying to David Suchet’s dapper and self-important yang. He’s dismissed as just another nosy parker by the young and very serious Inspector Crome (Rupert Grint). The world has moved on since Poirot’s celebrity heyday. This is all done in an extremely heavy-handed fashion as Poirot’s retired police pal Japp literally drops dead in front of him. Alright, alright, we get it – everyone is mortal. Poor old Poirot is lonely; in desperate need of a Scooby gang – despite first appearances he’s no good at coping with life alone and forgotten.

Enter the murderer who remembers Poirot at the height of his powers and wants to play a game. By letter he tells him he’s off to kill a series of people throughout the UK whose names start with each letter of the alphabet in turn and it’s up to Poirot to figure out the connection between the seemingly random victims stop him. What an effort from the murderous mastermind to troll Poirot pre-Twitter. Think of the expense in stamps alone!

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‘The Team’

People have been getting very excited about this new euro drama, picked up by MHz Choice in America, Walter Presents of Channel 4 and out now on DVD in the UK. It’s designed very much with the new and surprisingly ravenous appetite for Euro drama in mind, bringing us together like happy clappy Eurovision. It’s supported by about 9 production companies and the ‘with thanks’ list is in big letters at the very start, and is very long. It’s an entire European industrial zone.

The Team of the title is the Europol network, bringing detectives together from Denmark, Belgium, Germany. The lead is Harald Bjorn, played by Lars Mikkelsen who is familiar to viewers as mayoral candidate Troels Hartmann in The Killing, and a sinister villain in a pretty poor Sherlock episode.

Right-wing losers the UK Independence Party don’t like it, which is reason enough for me to give it a try. Also, who knew UKIP had a culture spokesman? You would have thought they were very anti-culture, what with so many foreigners mixed up in it. Wasn’t culture  invented in ancient Greece? It’s enough to make a racist shudder.

Well The Team ought to suit those who distrust foreigners; when it comes to language skills it’s not exactly taxing. It’s entry-level subtitles with plenty of spoken English to break up all that reading. Everyone we come across, from brothels to board rooms, speaks an enviable variety of European languages.

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‘Public Enemy’

Sky Atlantic are really stepping up when it comes to interesting Euro imports, and really competing with the big boys Walter Presents on Channel 4 and good old BBC4. Midnight Sun from Sweden was seriously amazing. Their latest offering is a dark drama that was hugely successful in its home territory of Belgium, and it soon becomes clear why.  When a convicted child killer Guy Beranger (Angelo Bison) is released from prison on probation, the monks of Vielsart Abbey offer him sanctuary in a small village in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. Creepy Guy is placed under the protection of a young Federal Police inspector, Chloé Muller (Stéphanie Blanchoud), who is herself haunted by nightmares of childhood trauma. Despite clearly not being mentally fit enough for this duty young Chloé is to be his babysitter.

Creepy Guy was convicted of five murders in 1990s. These were extremely high profile killings, mainly it seems of children, and he’s not been forgotten. On the way into the up into the forest we’re greeted with angry protests from Vielsart villagers and quite a few of the abbey monks. Father Abbot is on side, all about the Christian charity and forgiveness. Even among his own brothers he’s not made a popular decision. Will he be ousted because of this or will he teach his brothers that forgiveness isn’t easy but is always necessary?

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Shocking TV – Viewpoint

The promise of a shock is an excellent hook. Who can resist? We might not admit it but we’re all interested to see freakish behaviour in others and we’d love to know what goes on behind closed doors. This compulsion is at least half the reason for the success of Big Brother and other supposed ‘reality’ tv shows. As an audience we don’t want to be calmed or soothed or reassured; we want to be shocked! We want to be outraged or astonished or moved in some way. And for quite a lot of people, the darker the better.

This is also why the most outrageous actions are always on the advert. A good recent example is Bear Grylls’ vehicle The Island. The voiceover says “someone is going to die” and a contestant falls of a rocky cliff! OMG! What happened? Did he die? Tune in to find out! Well no, of course he didn’t die and he didn’t suffer any major injuries either (despite the consensus that he was an awful person and probably deserved getting bashed up a bit). Do you think even in 2016 they would have been allowed to broadcast an accidental death on a reality show? No. Obviously not. But in that moment, in that 30 second advert, we are swept up in the supposed drama and we HAVE to know what happens!

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