Watching the detectives: Line of Duty; Follow the Money; The Team; Broadchurch; Vera

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Without question we’re living in the middle of a crime spree. Television crime, that is. While the streets have arguably never been safer in real life, the small screen is delivering a never-ending stream of criminal activity right into our living rooms – and it seems we just can’t get enough of it.

Here’s a look at five detective shows that are currently back on the evening schedules. Spoiler alert: they’re all really worth watching, providing that you can stomach the glut of nefarious deeds on display!

Line of Duty S4 E1 (BBC One)

Most shows seem to make a big splash with their first season but then gradually decline over the years. But the police anti-corruption drama Line of Duty is taking the opposite trajectory, having started in 2012 with a fairly decent first run, but which showed little sign of the greatness that was to follow. Things didn’t really kick off until its sophomore year and the investigation into DI Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes), and even that was no warning for what was to follow in the pulse-poundingly brilliant third season.

It was so good in fact that Line of Duty won pretty much the ultimate BBC accolade: it’s been plucked from the backwaters of BBC2 and relocated not only to BBC One but all the way to the channel’s top drama spot on Sunday evenings. In police terms, that’s like a Detective Sergeant being promoted directly to Assistant Chief Constable, and as far as I’m aware it’s an unprecedented fast-track in the Corporation’s long history. The thing is, it’s entirely justified.

I had been worried that Line of Duty might not be able to live up to expectations and wouldn’t be capable of sustaining the quality, especially since the story arc that had bound together the first three seasons had now been wrapped up. But I needn’t have worried: creator, writer and now director Jed Mercurio once again proves himself well up to the task. From the opening minutes when there’s a dramatic break in Operation Trapdoor – the investigation into the murder of one young woman and the abduction of a second – the first episode of the latest series doesn’t take its foot off the gas for a single moment. It feels like you’re watching events unfold in real time; any thought of watching on catch-up or pausing and replaying anything is simply impossible to contemplate if it means waiting a single second longer to find out what’s going on. And if you’re not already breathless, the shock twist in the final second of the episode will make you gasp.

This time round the police officer under investigation is Detective Chief Inspector Roz Huntley, impressively played by Thandie Newton. It seems that the break in her investigation is just a little too good to be true, and forensic co-ordinator Tim Ifield (Jason Watkins) believes there’s been a frame-up of the suspect in custody. He takes the case to AC-12 where the formidable Superintendent Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) assigns DS Arnott (Martin Compston) and DS Fleming (Vicky McClure) to investigate further. They soon decide something is off, but they don’t know just how bad things are about to get.

Just as he did in the first episode of season 3, Mercurio manages to set up the new story – and then immediately pulls the rug out from under our feet with a development that none of us (not even the characters themselves) see coming. I can’t wait to see what happens in the second episode. And any series that kicks off a big action car chase sequence with the line “And I’ve put the bins out” already has my unswerving loyalty for the next five weeks.

Line of Duty continues on Sundays at 9pm on BBC One. The full season can be bought on DVD on May 8 2017. Previous seasons are already available for purchase on DVD and streaming.

Follow the Money S2 E1-8 (BBC Four)

As anyone who reads this blog on even a semi-regular basis will know, I’ve been a big fan of Nordic Noir ever since the early days of Wallander and Forbrydelsen. However I have to admit the first run of financial crimes thriller Follow The Money (Bedrag) was not one of my favourite offerings from Danish broadcaster DK when it aired in the UK 12 months ago.

The second season is an improvement, picking up the pace and providing more gripping tension with a higher stakes conspiracy involving the takeover of small investment institution Absalon by Knud Christensen (Waage Sandø) who is the chairman of Nova, one of Denmark’s biggest banks. He is assisted in his nefarious undertakings by the unnervingly bland but deadly enforcer known only as the Swede (Claes Ljungmark) – but when the Swede falls ill he’s forced to rely on small time crook Nicky (Esben Smed Jensen) to do his leg work for him, and things soon get complicated – and fatal.

Fraud squad detective Mads (Thomas Bo Larsen) is still the main protagonist, although his hot-headed, rule-breaking maverick nature (yawn) gets a little wearing. It’s a relief therefore that we have the good-natured Alf (Thomas Hwan) as his level-headed partner to balance things up. In the middle of it all is former corporate lawyer Claudio Moreno (Natalie Madueño), newly released from prison after the events of the first season. She is seeking revenge on Christensen and inserts herself into Absalon to thwart the takeover, little realising the ruthless depths her opponents will sink to in order to get their own way.

For me it’s still no where near the heights of the greatest Nordic Noir fare we’ve seen over the past decade, and it rather stretches credulity with some of its plotting, but it certainly has its moments. Every time I think “Maybe I won’t watch any more of this …” it manages to come up with a new shock or development that reengages my interest and keeps me coming back for more. And as television thrillers go, that’s a pretty good achievement.

Follow the money concludes on Saturday at 9pm on BBC Four. The full season can be bought on DVD from April 10 2017. The previous season is already available for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray.

The Team S1 E1-5 (More 4)

Of the crime shows we’re covering in this article, The Team is the only freshman offering. Rather than a Nordic Noir affair it’s more accurately a EuroNoir entry, being as it is a collaboration between production companies in Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland.

Detectives from all over Europe are brought together by the killings of a number of young women in different locations across the continent. The head of the Europol investigation is Denmark’s Harold Bjørn, played by Forbrydelsen star (and more recently Sherlock) Lars Mikkelsen who works with his counterparts Jackie Müller (Jasmin Gerat) from Berlin and Alicia Verbeeck (Veerle Baetens) from Antwerp. The initial focus on the investigation is journalist Jean-Louis Poquelin (Carlos Leal) but things soon move on to the more widespread activities of organised crime kingpin Marius Loukauskis (Nicholas Ofczarek) and his right-hand strongman Bruno Koopmann (Filip Peeters).

Into an already complex and sprawling case are inserted a lot of unusual domestic distractions: Bjørn and Müller had an affair seven years previously which puts a strain on relations with their current-day spouses, while Verbeeck suspects internal corruption within the Belgian force while trying to deal with her alcoholic mother and needy sister. The overall effect of all these storylines is to make the series feel rather fragmented and hard to follow, and as a result it lacks the narrative coherence of series such as The Bridge and Salamander. It does have some hugely effective moments, however: a chase through the frozen Alpine scenery is throughly gripping; a shootout in a stairwell will leave your nerves jangling; while the moment that one of our protagonists is ambushed getting into an elevator is a true gut-punch that will leave you winded for the rest of the week waiting for the next instalment to find out how it works out.

Overall however there’s a sense that maybe the show is having to work too hard to make its various locations and characters cohere into a satisfying whole, so while it’s certainly worth a watch it’s not altogether surprising that it seems the series (originally filmed in 2015) didn’t get recommissioned for a second outing.

The Team continues on More 4 on Fridays at 10pm and is available to watch in the UK on Channel 4’s catch-up service All 4. The full season will be released on DVD on April 17 2017,

Broadchurch S3 E1-5 (ITV)

The first season of Broadchurch was a spectacular success (although I admit, it took me a couple of weeks initially to get into it and work out what all the buzz was about.) The second started well but unfortunately got stuck in a mire of shaky judicial proceedings that failed to advance the drama of the maiden run, together with a parallel case that was confusing and which conspicuously failed to engage the viewers.

But the third season is Broadchurch back to its absolute best, starting with a brand new case. Since another murder in such a small town would be inherently unbelievable, the show changes tack and examines in detail a serious sexual assault on local woman Trish Winterman (Julie Hesmondhalgh). The first episode – showing virtually in real time the procedures authorities use to handle a rape complaint – was fascinating, gripping, disturbing and upsetting. After that we followed DI Hardy (David Tennant) and DS Miller (Olivia Colman) as they start to identify possible suspects and began to investigate motives and alibis in a slow-burn series of reveals that leaves you suspecting and fearing everyone and everything.

Great writing by Chris Chibnall (soon to take over as showrunner of Doctor Who) and direction by Paul Andrew Williams are coupled to top-notch performances from the likes of Sarah Parish as Trish’s best friend Cath, Lenny Henry as her boss Ed at the local farm shop, and Charlie Higson as her estranged husband Ian. This series, the show also hits on an inspired way of keeping some of the original characters from the Danny Latimer investigation involved in the new story: in particular, Danny’s mother Beth (Jodie Whittaker) has become a trauma counsellor and is assigned Trish’s case. By contrast Mark Latimer (Andrew Buchan) is unable to move on from his son’s murder and is determined to track down the man who killed Danny and make him pay, since the courts failed to.

Overall it works beautifully, telling a new story in a new way while keeping enough of the brilliant first season alive and present in our minds to ensure there’s no question about this being the same, connected show. If this does indeed prove to be Broadchurch’s final bow (and that’s how it seems right now) then it’s going out on a high and we can forget all about that sagging second season, and instead simply admire how the story began in 2013 and how it’s concluding four years later.

Broadchurch continues on Monday evenings at 9pm. The full season will be available on DVD on April 24. Previous seasons are already available for purchase on DVD and Blu-ray.

Vera S7 E1-2

I really didn’t like Vera when it started in 2011, and gave it a pretty rotten review. However, the fact that the series – based on the best-selling DCI Vera Stanhope novels by Ann Cleeves – got renewed year after year and is now on its seventh season gave me pause for concern. It made me think that I must have missed something, or that I had simply got my review flat wrong.

Well – yes and no. Rewatching the very first episode of Vera, even all this time later, I still find I have the same negative reactions as I did originally. My principal objections – other than some really distracting direction – had been to do with the main character of Vera herself, who was presented as simply too rude, obnoxious and bullying to be a believable figure in the modern police force. However this time around I went on to watch the second episode of that original season, and it was clear that the production team had been hard at work refining the show and getting rid of 50 per cent of the rough edges that had so annoyed me back then. The third show was better still, and by the end of the first four-episode run I was able to see what appealed to millions of viewers, and hence start to really enjoy the show for myself.

Vera can still be cantankerous, but these days it’s played more for humour and is balanced by a genuine warm concern for those caught up in the crimes she’s investigating, all of which allows the fabulous Brenda Blethyn to really get the best out of the part. Instead of a malicious figure she’s now at best impish and at worst merely thoughtless, such as being continually oblivious as to how old her sergeant Aiden Healy (Kenny Doughty)’s young child – and also her godson – is.

As a result, season 7 is a superior crime drama of the 90 minute, case-a-week variety. While the show couldn’t go on without Blethyn, there’s been some turnover in the rest of the cast with the character of Healy a replacement of Vera’s original sidekick Joe Ashworth (David Leon), Cush Jumbo having come and gone as a DC before heading stateside for The Good Wife, and the team now on its third pathologist in the form of Christopher Colquhoun as Doctor Anthony Carmichael. At least the dour DC Kenny Lockhart (Jon Morrison) is still around to scowl his displeasure and get things wrong on a permanent basis.

The show’s main character – other than Vera herself – is the North East setting, in particular in the first episode of the latest season in which a young woman is found dead on a small inaccessible island off the Northumberland coast. The second story heads to a remote farm in the countryside where a new body is found near the site of a 13-year-old murder, providing an engrossing mix of mysteries.

All in all I’ve become quite the convert to Vera, and even to the character of Vera herself as played by Blethyn. I wouldn’t have thought that was likely after watching the pilot episode all those years ago – I even signed off that original review by declaring “there really wasn’t anything here that made me want to seek it out again in the future.” But I’m always happy to be proved wrong when the end result turns out to be so thoroughly worth watching after all.

Vera continues on Sundays at 8pm on ITV. The full season can be bought on DVD on April 17 2017. Previous seasons are already available for purchase on DVD.

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