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Friday, 30 August 2013

Matt on The Box: This Week's TV Highlights: What Remains, Vera, New Tricks and A Touch of Cloth 2

Welcome back to this much more punctual look at the week's TV, in what can only be described as a crime special.


First up we have What Remains, a programme centring around the look for the killer of a young woman found murdered in the attic of the share house in which she lives. But What Remains isn't your average whodunnit as the body in question has been up in the loft for two years without anybody realising it was there. The opening scenes show us how Melissa (Jessica Gunning) spent the last moments of her life before she was struck over the back of the head. Meanwhile, in the present, Vidya (Amber Rose Revah) and Michael (Russell Tovey) are moving into number eight Coulthard Street, an old building that has been separated into flats. It is Michael who finds the body and soon Detective Len Harper (David Threlfall) shows up to investigate the murder. Len, who is soon to retire, is perplexed by the fact that nobody noticed that Melissa had died, with most of the house's residents believing that she had simply moved on. It seems as if Len is worried that the same thing may happen to him and he becomes obsessed with tracking down the killer. With the exception of Vidya, the other residents of the house seem reluctant to help Len as they are all dealing with their own dramas. Elaine (Indira Varma) spends most of the episode worrying about what has happened to her partner Peggy who has seemingly vanished. Kieron (Steven Mackintosh) is reluctant to write a piece about Melissa's death as he feels that the discovery of a body in the house will decrease his chances of selling the flat when he moves on. Then there's maths teacher Joe (David Bamber) who is concealing a woman in his flat that only his former pupil Michael recognises. As the case his handed back to uniform, Len is told to drop the investigation as he no longer works for the police. But it seems that he's determined to find the truth and, judging by the final scene, someone is as determined to stop him.


Going solely on the plot description, What Remains could easily come across as an Agatha Christie style murder mystery. Thankfully writer Tony Basgallop prevents this from happening by making What Remains feel almost like a haunted house drama than a whodunnit. Director Coky Giedroyc makes the house seem incredibly creepy with its dusty staircases and dark corridors. The fact that the body has been undiscovered for two years also makes What Remains a thought-provoking piece. I surely can't have been the only one who was trying to work out how long it would take someone to find my body if the same thing happened to me. Another element which makes What Remains so great is the character of Len, who doesn't come across like your average crusading cop. Indeed Basgallop stops Len descending into cliché, as the 'cop on his final day on the force' is a character we've seen on the screen numerous times before. I feel that Len's need to solve the case comes from the fact that he doesn't want to end up like Melissa as someone whose body would go undiscovered for months if he were to keel over. Threlfall's performance is utterly compelling and his performance makes you forget about the actor's most famous character, Shameless' Frank Gallagher, almost instantly. The supporting characters are equally as intriguing while the actors playing them do their best to make them seem as convincing as possible. I found David Bamber to be great as Joe, who was painted as the villain of the piece. Joe sees himself as the person in charge of the house, he keeps all of the spare keys, but at the same time he is hiding a secret that he doesn't want to get out. Steven Mackintosh was on form as he once again played the everyman who isn't as perfect as he first seems. In fact there doesn't seem to be a weak link among the cast with even Jessica Gunning excelling in her few scenes as the doomed Melissa. Overall, What Remains was one of the best opening episodes of a drama that I've seen since Broadchurch. I'm utterly invested in the majority of the characters and found the plot to be utterly believable. Basgallop's script and Giedroyc's direction are a winning combination and my only hope is that What Remains keeps the momentum that it built up in this opening instalment.

 While What Remains was trying its best not to come across as a traditional murder mystery drama, Vera stayed very much the same. The show centres around DCI Vera Stanhope (Brenda Blethyn), the Northumberland detective who is always able to crack a case in under ninety minutes. This time Vera and her assistant DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon) were tasked with solving the murder of a young girl who had been shot during a night in a secluded cottage. Lizzie (Eva Quinn) broke the cardinal rule of the crime drama when she wandered out into the misty woods after hearing a gunshot. The police's initial suspect is poacher Robert Doran (Richard Riddell), with whom Joe has a storied past, but it soon seems that Lizzie may have not been the intended target of the murder. Soon the intended victim, Corinne Franks (Vinette Robinson), is mowed down by a car and the hunt for her killer is on. To me Vera is the very antithesis of What Remains and revels in its clichés rather than attempting to avoid them.  This episode was full of more red herrings than a supermarket fish counter and had the customary second murder about halfway through proceedings, which apparently was meant to keep the audience interested. Unfortunately this tactic didn't work on me and I have to admit that I struggled to even stay awake while watching Vera. Once I'd solved the murder, about thirty minutes before Joe and Vera managed to, I had to wait for the inevitable to happen. In fact I was much more intrigued with the subplot involving Joe's past than I was by the central mystery. In its favour I think Vera is incredibly well-shot, to the point that it comes across as a video made by the British tourist board, and Blethyn tries her best not to make her character come across as a stereotype. Ultimately though, Vera is a generic Sunday night cop drama that really shouldn't still be around in 2013. However it seems that I may well be in the minority, as Vera garnered more viewers on Sunday night than What Remains, I suppose there's no accounting for taste.

Though New Tricks may come across as generic at times, it is still a lot more fun than Vera will ever be. This week saw the introduction of Dan Griffin (Nicholas Lyndhurst) who has been brought into UCOS to replace the departing Brian Lane. Though Dan does share some of Brian's social awkwardness, he brings an air of youth to him that has been sorely lacking in the team. Dan does little to ingratiate himself with his new colleagues, especially Gerry (Dennis Waterman) who believes the youthful Dan has been planted as a mole in the team. Meanwhile Sandra (Amanda Redman) isn't happy that Dan's contract stipulated that he works a nine till five day, as it prevents him from being a useful member of the team. However, there's a reason for Dan's tight schedule as it appears as if he's a single parent to handicapped daughter Holly (Storme Toolis). It's Holly who is able to help her dad track down ageing jazz singer Angela Gold (Tracie Bennett) who was the original prime suspect in the death of porn baron 'Gentleman' Jim Hockney. The case has been re-opened when Sara (Nathalie Buscombe) discovers Jim's not her real dad and feels that her porn star mother Jane Harlow (Ingrid Lacey) has been lying all these years. I was able to solve the murder about ten minutes before UCOS but, unlike with Vera, it didn't really seem to matter all that much. Indeed the best thing about New Tricks, at least for me, is the chemistry between the team members and it appears as if Dan may have issues working within the group. His colleagues certainly didn't warm to him initially but it seems as if he may have finally won them over and I'm sure next week they'll all be friends. While he couldn't possibly match the greatness of Alun Armstrong, I found that Lyndhurst still gave a good showing of himself as oddball Dan. The inclusion of a disabled daughter did seem a little bit like a cliché but I found that New Tricks didn't make Holly too much of an 'issue-based' character. There was also an insinuation that Dan joined UCOS for a particular reason that I'm sure will reveal itself over the next few weeks. However the character's sarcastic charm won me over and I found that Lyndhurst was miles better than the incredibly annoying Waterman.

As I watched all of the above crime shows I was spotting as many of the clichés as I possibly could then seeing how many of them popped up in A Touch of Cloth 2. Yes, Charlie Brooker's spoof cop drama is back for a second run as Jack Cloth (John Hannah) was convinced to rejoin the force and go undercover. Since the last series Cloth had left the police after his wife's murderer Tom Boss (Julian Rhind-Tutt) was allowed to return as he'd 'been on a course.' Jack's impetus for returning was a bank job in which Todd Carty and an owl were killed off. After discovering that Macratty (Stephen Dillane) was behind the bank job, Jack goes undercover to try and apprehend the known mob boss. But when he finds up there's someone controlling Macratty he decides to stick around, something that Anne Oldman (Suranne Jones) isn't happy about as she thinks Jack has forgotten what side he's on. Elsewhere Anne is being wined and dined by potential mayor Hope Goodgirl (Anna Chancellor) who wants her to become the police commissioner as she is ready to oust Tom Boss. I have to say that I felt this sequel to A Touch of Cloth lacked the pace and storytelling of its predecessor. While I laughed continuously at the endless sight gags, I found that some of the elements of the story dragged. Indeed, I feel a good spoof needs to have as good a story as a normal crime drama would have and I felt A Touch of Cloth lacked that this time around. There was even a gag about how the writers didn't know where the story was going next but I personally found that to be a bit of a cop out, pardon the pun. To its credit, A Touch of Cloth has a group of actors who are willing to send themselves up as they act their lines with a straight face. While there was still plenty to like about this second round of A Touch of Cloth, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. However, any show that features both Grange Hill's Mrs McLusky and The Bill's Tony Stamp has to be applauded to some extent.

What did you think to this week's TV highlights? Leave me a comment below or get in touch with me on Twitter @mattstvbites

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