In TV drama-land, female senior police officers are everywhere, rather more so than in real life. We’ve had Prime Suspect, Maisie Raine and The Commander. The Bill’s got DI Samantha Nixon and Inspector Gina Gold, and if they can’t crack a case they hand it over to MIT, led by DI Viv Friend. The DI who keeps trying to nick EastEnders’ Phil Mitchell is female, and the Inspector in Merseybeat is, of course, Lesley “Trout Mask Replica” Ash. These days you’ve got to go north to the mean streets of Taggart’s Glasgow to find a Guv’nor who leaves the toilet seat up.
On that basis, Blue Murder, a drama about a female murder-squad DCI, didn’t score highly in the originality stakes, especially with ITV showing MIT the previous night. Its star, Caroline Quentin, isn’t our favourite actress either, largely because she bored us to tears playing dour, spirit-dampening foils in Men Behaving Badly and Jonathan Creek.
So it was nice to find that Blue Murder wasn’t bad after all, even nudging into “quite good” territory at times. Quentin gave an engaging, likeable performance, with a creditable northern accent (it was set, like seemingly everything else these days, in Manchester) and a bright, spirit-enhancing personality which helped her to deal with her stressful job, broken marriage, three kids and another on the way. The tone was more Maisie Raine than Prime Suspect, but the authenticity of the domestic scenes (obviously written and acted from personal experience) lifted it above the usual career-woman-with-issues clichés.
It wasn’t bad as a detective story either, with a gory murder, three suspects and a nasty twist around the three-quarter stage. But for all its good qualities (including script, production and supporting cast), Blue Murder still felt like an Identikit drama put together from the parts specified by the ad sales department, aiming to pull in the high-income female audience that ITV thinks is sitting with their feet up on a Sunday night.
Female senior detective – check. Job/kids guilt and feckless, blameable husband – check. Tall, dark, handsome love interest (Ian Kelsey from Casualty and Down To Earth) – check. Boss who’s sceptical about women officers but grudgingly admires her abilities – check. A couple of sparky subordinates to provide continuity if Quentin bales out after Series 2 – check. Highly professional, but about as creative as well-designed milk carton – and that’s rather sad.