ITV make a LOT of crime dramas. Even when their dramas aren’t specifically in the crime genre they like to have us guessing about who did what to who. A recent example of this was their under-appreciated black comedy Finding Alice. It was, as it turned out, a story about how you grieve when you lose the most important person to you. But, this being a TV drama on British television he had to contain the occasional bit of mystery. It began, as did as it happened, a lot of last year’s dramas, with Keeley Hawes‘ beloved husband dead at the bottom of the stairs. The drama about a woman navigating an unexpected death should’ve been enough of a draw but because this is a British TV drama it had to ask the question, did he fall or was he pushed? A better question would have been, does it matter? The end result is the same.
I’m often guilty of bemoaning the broadcaster as more and more press releases come through my inbox teasing the next big thriller, but I can recognise when the genre is done well, it’s hard to beat.
A case in point is their Morecambe set crime drama The Bay. Beginning in 2019, the series created by writer Daragh Carville and director Richard Clarke may appear on paper like another of those emails I’d get that I’d be dismissive of, but it has proven itself time and time again to be something very special.
Focusing on the police investigation but seen through the eyes of the Family Liaison Officer (or FLO for short) the series is much about the people at the centre of the crime as it is about solving the mystery that might surround their death. That’s what sets the series apart. The first two series saw gung-ho FLO D.S. Lisa Armstrong (Morven Christie) help a family when their twins go missing. Carville’s clever scripts keep everything in perfect balance with time given to the worried family, the police investigation and Lisa’s home life as she struggles to be a proper mum to her own teens.
The second series opened with a shocking scene where (look away now if you plan to watch it) where a family man (Stephen Tompkinson) answers the door during a family barbeque and is brutally shot by a masked gunman on his doorstep. The best crime dramas work when they focus on the people involved in the crime. No one here, in the police unit led by D.I. Tony Manning (the always brilliant Daniel Ryan) feels like a cliche. D.I Manning spent a lot of the last series sleeping on the floor of his office as he struggled to come to terms with his wife wanting a divorce, but these don’t feel like the ‘TV Cops’ we’ve seen before, these are real people who happen to be police officers.
The third series (which is all available to binge on BritBox or the ITVHUB) begins with another fantastically tense and surprising scene. As two women take an open water swim something already feels off. When one of them lags behind your mind fills in the gaps and decides she’s not long for this world. When the one who makes it to the safety of the buoy but gets her foot tangled in fishing wire you assume she’s going to disappear into the blue yonder. What you don’t expect is for her to free herself of her predicament, laugh at her near-death experience and just as she’s about to relax, have a dead body pop up beside her!
It’s a clever opening sequence that I should have expected because this show never delivers what you expect, instead, the clever plotting is, as all good crime dramas should be, one step ahead of its audience.
We’re then introduced to our new FLO for the series, DS Jenn Townsend (Marsha Thomason) who is dropping her kids off at their new school when she inadvertently stumbles on the crime scene when the dead boy’s distraught mother runs in front of her car to get to her son. It’s a powerful scene that introduces Townsend’s family dynamic whilst also immediately showing in action on the job.
The body is identified to be that of promising young boxer Saif Rahman. His death is a huge shock to his tight-knit family and leaves his two brothers Jamal (Nadeem Islam) and Adnan (Michael Karim) and mother Mariam (Rina Mahoney) utterly shattered.
Marsha Thomason’s Jen Townsend fits into the series from the off. Less confident than her predecessor, that could be first day nerves but also could have something to do with the ‘leave of absence that her counsellor touches on in their first meeting (Jen isn’t keen on the idea of sitting down with someone to explore her past but what I appreciate about the show is how normal even the minor characters feel.) Saif’s brother Adnan has a troubled past and is known to the police and is quick to react aggressively when Jen asks where he was on the night of his brother’s death. It’s a brief exchange but one that leaves Jen rattled. Again the script from Carville and co-writer Furquan Akhtar never lingers on the mystery too long preferring instead to focus on steadily introducing the key figures in Saif’s life. His brother Jamal, who is deaf and communicates through sign language. His boxing coach and friends from the gym and Molly (Isabel Caswell) Saif’s girlfriend who he is family is unaware of. It’s Molly who tells Jen that the pair were the target of a racially motivated attack with the men involved telling him ‘You’re Dead!’
This first episode sets things up nicely. It would appear a desire to be with her new partner Chris (Barry Sloane) is what brought Jen to Morecambe but it’s unclear quite whether this is the happy relationship it first appears. The Bay’s pacing is what sets it apart from other dramas of this kind. It’s quick and precise and remembers that the people affected by the crime are as important as those investigating it. In an era where crime dramas come at you thick and fast, The Bay is a cut above, and one that showcases what the genre is capable of at its best.
The Bay Continues Wednesday at 9.00pm on ITV.
Stream the full series now on the ITVHUB or BritBox.