‘Armchair Detectives’ – BBC1

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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‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a new drama series that the BBC must be very happy to have. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Robert Galbraith. Old Robbie here was discovered to be a pseudonym for JK Rowling in 2013. Now, that’s a name to conjure with. It’s an odd way to broadcast the series – two episodes in one Bank Holiday weekend and the last of this trilogy in a week’s time. Let’s see what it’s all about.

The plot seems to be a list of unlikely names designed by the Cluedo board game characters playing Mad Libs with a murder mystery running through it. It’s also a warning to office workers everywhere – be careful what temp jobs you sign up for. There’s a whole world of shit you have to put up with for just above the minimum wage and all the tea you can drink, as long as you remember to fetch the milk.

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‘Hinterland: Series 3’

I have finally relented and let Mr H submit a review for his favorite show. He spent 20 years living in Wales for his sins so consider him our foreign correspondent.

“It’s beautiful, I’m so glad you bought a big new telly” – Sarah Hamstera (1847 – Present)

It’s not often I hear justification for a purchase but there is power in beauty and Hinterland knows that all too well…

Hinterland (Y Gwyll) is an oddity in British television in that it is created and produced primarily for the Welsh audience but filmed once in Welsh and again in English. This means that there are 2 versions available to the tv audience (3 if you include the much rarer and heavily abridged all English version), the all Welsh version (Y Gwyll) appears on BBC owned S4C followed a short while later by the ‘International’ version which is predominantly in English but with key sequences in Welsh with English subtitles. This is the version put out on Saturday nights on BBC4 fitting nicely into their standard Scandi-Noir slot where we get to see just how well we have come to understand and love the genre. In some ways it feels odd that we aren’t watching the Welsh version with intermittent English scenes but, given the core audience, it’s understandable.

For those that haven’t yet sampled the ethereal delights of Hinterland, it is ostensibly a police procedural drama set in the beautiful scenery of the rural Welsh countryside surrounding Aberystwyth. This, for the most part would be enough but there is much darker fayre to be had below the verdant and bucolic surface.

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‘The Lava Field’

This is a super-short Icelandic drama series a friend pointed out to me, and wondered why I hadn’t watched it yet. Fortunately it’s on UK Netflix, and so short you could watch the lot in an afternoon.

Welcome to The Lava Field (the original Icelandic title is Hraunið. In suitable Scandi-noir fashion it grabs the attention straight away with swift shotgun action. This version of the mysterious island is filled with extremely neat well-lit houses, beautiful boxes, like candles against the black bubbly lava field backdrop. The vast majority of the shots are bright and wide; you need to watch it wearing sunglasses. The brightness is throughout – both interiors and exteriors. I suppose Iceland has a complicated relationship with daylight and the sun, in a country where it doesn’t set for four weeks in the summer.

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‘Witness for the Prosecution’

After last year’s Agatha Christie adaptation And Then There Were None, hopes were set high for short story turned into two-part drama special Witness for the Prosecution, but this was quite a different beast. No mansions, no dinner guests being offed one-by-one, no detective twirling his enviable moustaches and not a normal Christie ending. Much interfering had been done, and there wasn’t much in the way of original Christie to be seen.

We’re transported to the roaring twenties and Kim Cattrall is Ms French, a wealthy widow living it up and having a fine time with her fancy man Leonard Vole much to the disgust of her loudly disapproving maid Janet. These days Emily French would be mocked as a cougar, a woman of a certain age who is attracted to younger men and has the nerve to go after them. These prejudices are certainly represented and Emily knows her actions make her unpopular and looked-down on in high society, but she doesn’t really care. Money is a pretty good insulator against what people think of you. Cattrall, famous for a strikingly similar character in Sex and the City, is essentially playing Samantha 70 years earlier.

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‘Braquo’ Series 4

Grim. Unrelenting. Relentlessly downbeat. An extremely difficult watch. No, not soundbites describing the year that was 2016. These are all the reasons that I never got around to watching the rest of series 2 of hard-boiled French cop drama Braquo. So despite being a big fan of series 1 there’s a distinct gap in my Braquo knowledge as series 4 starts.

It’s a hard watch, but it’s good. This is the real deal – far grittier than any US or British cop show I’ve ever seen.  Braquo was created by former cop Olivier Marchal and based on his knowledge of the beat – a sobering thought considering the morals, or lack of, on show in every single one of his characters. You’re in safe, if grubby, hands, with the Canal+ mark of quality. Just don’t ask where those hands have been.

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‘Modus’

Modus is familiar even before it begins. It’s an eight part Swedish crime drama shown on BBC4 in the Saturday 9pm slot usually reserved for foreign langauge drama. The credits are familiar again – a nod to the skyline of The Bridge and the grizzly but striking black and white body parts of Trapped. It’s a new tradition that dramas especially must have stylish opening credits, extra points for slow motion and an air of chilly bleakness.

So this is Christmas, in a snow-covered pine forest. A delightful Christmas card scene but it’s cold, lonely and frightening. Euro horror merchants the Brothers Grimm taught us from an early age that monsters live in the forest and they were right. In this case, in a caravan.

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