‘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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‘Mystery Road’ – BBC4

Here’s a tip from Helen at entertainmentviews.co.uk on how to help fill the gap The Bridge left behind. How about a foreign detective drama shot in a bright warm landscape where you don’t have to read any subtitles? Aussie drama Mystery Road was on BBC4 earlier this year. If you missed it why not enter her competition to win a copy on DVD?

Entertainment Views

Star rating: ****

A new BBC Four crime drama from Australia, Mystery Road is worth a watch if you enjoy this particular genre and fancy a fresh take on your standard whodunit.

From the first episode the scene is set, and the location sets the tone of the drama, the team behind the show have certainly made the most of what Western Australia has to offer and it makes for some superb shots. The areas of Aboriginal land which were also used and added to the atmospheric approach which provided a very real overall feel to the television series.

The central character of Detective Jay Swan (Aaron Pederson) came across as somewhat of an introvert in the loosest sense, my initial impression of him was that of arrogance and nonchalance – certainly not an instantly likeable individual. However, as he gets to work on the task in hand…

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‘Making a Murderer: Part 2’ – Netflix

Fifteen years ago if you had an extensive collection of serial killer literature on your bookshelf your date might leave with certain preconceptions about you and they might not be in a hurry to see you again. These days they’ll probably ask you what podcasts you’re listening to, whether you’ve seen The Staircase or who you think really killed Sister Cathy in The Keepers. True crime has come out of the closet and the first major show on Netflix that did that was Making a Murderer. Even if you were living under a rock three years ago you’d still have heard about it. It was easily Netflix’s most talked-about series ever, and arguably the most important true crime TV show in decades. Now it returns for a long-awaited second series.

The original investigative filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos are back and hard at work, embedded in the ongoing troubles of the Avery family and their apparent relentless persecution by the American justice system. If you need a quick refresher Steven Avery was originally convicted of a sexual assault on Penny Beerntsen despite having a solid alibi. For that he served an 18 year sentence. That conviction was finally overturned in 2003 and he was freed. He then filed a $36 million civil lawsuit against Manitowoc County and the law enforcement officers who framed him. Just two years later Avery and his 16 year old nephew Brendan Dassey were tried and convicted by those same institutions for Teresa Halbach’s murder. She’d disappeared after photographing a car at Avery’s salvage yard.  The hugely flawed conviction was clear to anyone with even a passing interest in how the police should work as vulnerable Brendan was coerced into his confession during a hugely irresponsible questioning where he had no responsible adult or legal council present. The video footage of his confession remains grueling to watch.

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‘No Activity’ – BBC2

In its quivering excitement last week’s Radio Times didn’t seem quite sure if it was advertising the American remake of this comedy (picked up by Funny Or Die and set to star Will Ferrell) or the Australian original. Happily for UK viewers the accents gave us a clue. No Activity sees three pairs of colleges all trapped in classic sitcom situations, cleverly linked to create something much funnier than the sum of its parts. And those parts are pretty funny to begin with. There’s a clever use of the classic cop show opening credits – it looks like it’s going to be dark, tense and packed with bad-ass action. But from the title we know that’s not going to be the case.

On a stakeout outside a suspected drugs warehouse is Detective Hendy, a young and ambitious chap and his senior Detective Stokes, who seems a bit of a bumbling dreamer. They’ve spent far too much time together and will discuss just about anything that pops into their mind. The chief concern in episode one is the plaster dolphin statue in the back seat that just might stand out to any watching crims, but Stokes couldn’t bear to leave it sitting there on the street for the binmen. Their later chat about how Stokes has a vasectomy face made me laugh out loud.

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‘Bodyguard’ – BBC1

Jed Mercurio’s new six-part drama has been teased by pretty much all of the journalists and bloggers who were lucky enough to catch previews this week. He’s riding high with the continued success of Line of Duty, the next series of which was delayed Bodyguard – a timely story about trust, fear and terrorism. As promised, the first 20 minutes were edge-of-your-seat action hero stuff, but is there enough here to maintain interest for five more episodes?

Richard Madden is David Budd (looking about 600% more macho than the late lamented Robb Stark he played on Game of Thrones), a traumatised soldier back from Afghanistan. His brave and selfless actions foil a terrorist plot to blow up a train filled with passengers, including his own children. Both terrorists are also unharmed, again thanks to him. Desperate brainwashed Nadia (we find out her name a long way into her and David’s conversation – I thought textbook negotiation tactics are to get people’s names as a priority) is talked down from pressing the button on her suicide belt by stony-faced Dave. He then embraces her to keep the army from shooting her dead. Interestingly, everyone on the train ready to pull the trigger and make a mess is female. He’s in the nurturing role, caring for his children, for poor confused Nadia and trying to keep the peace. Everyone escapes, traumatised but alive. Well of course – not even Mercurio is going to blow up his main character in the first episode. Or at least, not this time.

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‘Unforgotten’ Series 3 – ITV

SPOILER warning: this post deals with the final episode of Unforgotten Series 3. Do not read on unless you are up to date with both series 2 and 3. Catch up with all the box sets on ITV Hub now.

Unforgotten bowed out after a tremendous third series at the weekend. No one disagreed that it was an acting masterclass from start to finish, led by stalwarts Nicola Walker as DCI Cassie Stewart and Sanjeeve Bhaskar as DI Sunny Khan.  Since inception this show has attracted top quality British actors. This series was dominated by awesome performances particularly from Alex Jennings, James Fleet and Neil Morrissey (getting better and better in each drama part,although here he certainly need more screen time). But I wasn’t expecting such a split opinion on the ending, especially as this has become a truly beloved British drama. I wasn’t immediately on board back at their humble beginnings, and I admit I snarked at the first episode back in 2015. I was very happy to be proven wrong; the atmosphere wasn’t lacking in comparison to Scandi drama – it was just different.

Online, people seemed annoyed that there was no twist in the tale and that the final episode ran out of steam. Although, thinking about it, do any of the series so far provide a neat and satisfying ending? In series 2 because of the nature of the crime, the number of perpetrators and the time passed the police decide there was no value in pursing and prosecuting anyone. Was this what the audience wanted? Do we demand everything tied up neatly in a bow? Or do we realise if you strive for realism on TV in style and storyline that endings will inevitably be messy, just like in real life?

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‘Sacred Games’ – Netflix

The hero of Netflix’s first Indian drama is Sartaj Singh (played by Saif Ali Khan) who cuts a rather lonely figure. He’s a honest and honorable detective who refuses to be intimidated by his corrupt colleagues in Mumbai’s police force. Probably because he refuses to tow the line he’s never landed a big case. He’s trapped in a corrupt system with no way out. In good cop show style, he’s unhappily divorced, scarred, gaining weight and taking medication for anxiety. No wonder as he’s under immense pressure from his station chief to lie under oath about a unarmed teenager shot down right in front of him.

This seems like more than enough to be dealing with, but no. Right from the outset Sacred Games is a game to be played by two. His opponent is Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a notorious gangster and a fugitive in hiding for 15 years. He makes contact with Sartaj out of the blue seemingly to spill his guts about his extraordinary life.  He also has a cryptic warning. Mubai’s time is numbered – there’s 25 days until the whole city is destroyed. Is he threatening the city both men say they love or is he tipping Sartaj off in the hope of saving them all? His personal god complex is clear; his first words to Sartaj are “Do you believe in God?”, but after all he’s been through he thinks he might really be immortal. And the way the show sets him up, he really could be.

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