Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries are an international literary language; translated, loved and understood the world over. You know there’s going to be a big stately home, a cast of shifty upper-class characters, a few red herrings and a satisfyingly complicated conclusion. It’ll all hinge on the silver sugar tongs, a classified advert in the Times or the colour of the front door which you knew from the start but discounted as an inconsequential detail. It’s clever, gratifying and reassuring all in one shot. For a real-life example, please see me and Mr H on holiday in Turkey in 2014. We were, I’m ashamed to admit, battered out of our skulls on local raki and dealing with a day-long hangover in a hotel room easily as hot as the surface of the sun. What could be more soothing to the addled brain than finding Poirot dubbed into Turkish with English subtitles? In no small part thanks to Hercule we consoled the little grey cells that hadn’t been murdered by alcohol.
Ordeal by Innocence, the Easter Sunday BBC1 drama, is not your Turkish holiday Agatha Christie adaptation. There’s nothing soothing about this production. From the off it’s clear we’re in a nightmarish gothic horror. Producer and writer Sarah Phelps brings us a sharper, nastier, distilled version of And Then There Were None, her tremendous Christie adaptation from 2016. “Nine elaborate murders based on an extremely dodgy nursery rhyme that drive a young woman to suicide in a mansion on a deserted island is not really terrifying enough. Let’s kick it up a notch guys!”
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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.
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I think we can all agree that 2016 was rubbish, punctuated by the occasional depressing shitstorm. So far, 2017 is just bleak, barely registering on the Shrug Scale of shit-we’ve-all-just-got-to-get-used-to a.k.a. the new normal. So it’s the perfect time to turn your brain off, get grizzly and relish some zombie face-munching fun.
Welcome to Santa Clarita, a deeply boring middle-class suburbia somewhere in dull dry Southern California. Sheila and Joel are good-looking super-normal upwardly mobile estate agents (or realtors as they say over there) quickly sliding down the slippery slope into a totally ridiculous situation. Poor Sheila dies, only she doesn’t. Life goes on as normal, as best they can, while she, Joel and their teenage daughter Abby deal with the fact she is now a zombie.
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