Welcome once again to a look back at the TV highlights of the last couple of weeks.
We begin with the second series of one of my favourite new dramas of last year in the form of Chris Lunt’s Prey. As you’ll recall the first series focused on John Simm’s DS Marcus Farrow as he attempted to clear his name after he was accused of murdering his wife and son. Hot on his heels every step of the way was DS Susan Reinhardt (Rosie Cavaliero); who is the only returning character for this second series. Rather than a man attempting to clear his name, this series’ fugitive is aiding and abetting a criminal in order to protect his daughter. The man in question is prison guard David Murdoch (Philip Glenister), a widower and soon to be grandfather who enjoys a spot of amateur dramatics on the side. Events change for David after a routine trip to the hospital with prisoner Jules (MyAnna Buring) turns into a risky situation for the prison guard as he forced to help her escape or risk the life of his daughter (Sammy Winward) and her unborn child. Coincidentally, Susan and her young partner Richard Iddon (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) are investigating the supposed murder of Jules’ brother at the time of her escape therefore David’s actions quickly catch their attention. Just like in series one, David and Jules risk life and limb whilst on the run with the big set piece in this opening instalment seeing them jump into a river in order to evade capture. In a further nod to the first series this big stunt is placed at the start of the episode presumably in the attempt of enticing the audience to watch the rest of the instalment. However I feel this decision was almost detrimental to the episode as it meant there was very little in the rest of the hour that could live up to that breath-taking opening scene.
On the evidence of episode one alone, I don’t think that this series of Prey will be as engrossing as its predecessor primarily as I don’t have as much of an emotional connection to Glenister’s prison guard as I did to Simm’s Police Detective. I do feel as if Lunt should have spent a little more time focusing on the relationship between David and his daughter Lucy so that the audience could really understand why he’d risk everything to save her. Although a father risking his life for his daughter’s well-being is a rather easy thing to understand, the fact we only meet Lucy in one scene before her abduction makes it harder to care about her safety. Similarly I found it hard to care about the problems that Susan was having in her personal life as she’s not a character that has ever been painted as particularly likeable. After stalking her ex-husband in the first series, here she rebukes her new lover’s proposal preferring instead to focus on her career. That being said Prey does have its plus points namely the way Lunt paces out the story meaning that it was hard to get bored especially after David and Jules began their escape. The ensemble cast were also great with Philip Glenister really impressing as a dowdy everyman who was attempting to do the best for his family. In the past I’ve found it hard to buy into Glenister’s less intense performances but I felt he excelled here and I found him utterly believable throughout. But it was MyAnna Buring who impressed me the most as dowdy prisoner Jules, a character who you can’t quite trust even though her motives seem genuine. For an actress whose best known for playing powerful women, it was great to see Buring convincingly playing against type as the dowdy Jules. Alongside the fine performances, the biggest positive about this opening instalment of Prey’s second series is that, despite my reservations about certain aspects of the story, Lunt has provided me with enough intrigue to tune in again next week just to see what will happen next to David and Jules.
Whilst a lot of the fictional TV crime dramas we’ve been offered this year have been fairly lacklustre, the factual police procedurals have often been more successful. This was certainly true of The Murder Detectives; a documentary series that played over three nights last week on Channel 4. Shot by director David Nath as if it were a drama, The Murder Detectives focused on the death of Nicholas Robinson who was stabbed in the hallway of his Bristol hostel in March last year. Beginning with the shocking 999 call that Nick made after he was stabbed, The Murder Detectives focused on every aspect of the investigation and used a large amount of footage from the investigation in order to successfully tell a compelling story. Leading the investigation was DCI Andy Bevan who throughout was presented as a man who just wanted to get the bottom of what happened to this seemingly innocent nineteen-year-old. From what we heard about Nick from his friends and family, he was a studious youngster who had just started a brick-laying course and had recently got engaged to girlfriend Shannon. As far as anyone was aware he wasn’t involved in the gang culture that was rife in Bristol and instead was trying to distance himself from that way of life. One of the most interesting characters throughout the course of the series was the local beat detective who knew both the families of the victim and the young lad who was eventually convicted of the crime. In my opinion the series only became more compelling as it went along as the police found their suspect and hunted down those who helped to aid and abet him. The wait for some sort of solid DNA evidence was gripping as was the interview of the eye witness whose evidence eventually helped convict the offender. The series even allowed the audience to sympathise with the murderer as he, like Nick, was another lad who was trying to keep out of the gang lifestyle that ultimately cost him most of his life as well as the youngster he’d murdered.
Where The Murder Detective really excelled in my opinion was in the interviews with Nick’s parents Carlos and Angela as well as with his fiancée Shannon. Angela’s need for answers was enough of a reason for DCI Bevan to make sure that he found Nick’s murderer. I found Angela to be an utterly wonderful woman and somebody you were willing to sympathise with in the way you possibly wouldn’t a character in a fictional drama. Similarly fantastic was Shannon, who was actually on the phone with Nick at the time of the murder and who was forced to brave the courtroom in order to give evidence at the eventual trial. The most emotional part of the series for me was the footage of Nick’s funeral especially when the camera focused on Angela’s inability to interact with anyone until Nick had been buried. I thought that the decision to spend as much time with Carlos, Angela and Shannon added another element to The Murder Detectives that you wouldn’t see in your average episode of 24 Hours in Police Custody. The three episodes were also well-edited with the seemingly unprecedented access that Nath and his team had being utilised to its fullest. The only slight negative I had was that I felt rather uneasy enjoying a series that was based on a real life trauma that a family were going through. Although I wouldn’t describe The Murder Detectives as a piece of entertainment it still feels rather odd enjoying a series as much as I did knowing that those involved when through genuine pain. However, apart from that minor niggle, The Murder Detectives was one of the best series I’ve watched all year due to its combination of engaging police procedural and heartbreaking family saga. It also demonstrates how Channel 4 are expanding the possibilities of the factual format outside of their more familiar fixed-rig programming. Additionally I feel that it once again shows what a great year Channel 4 are having and how dynamic their programming is.
Sticking with the Channel 4 family of programming we head over to E4 for Tripped, a new comedy drama that focuses on two friends and a number of multiple dimensions. Tripped’s lead characters are stoner Milo (George Webster) and his more responsible friend Danny (Blake Harrison) who has recently got engaged to girlfriend Kate (Georgina Campbell). Danny’s decision to choose a work colleague over Milo as his best man leads to him getting stoned and then confused when a bearded version of his friend arrives in his front room warning him of various dangers. There begins a rather confusing first episode which plays like Quantum Leap meets Harold and Kumar as Danny and Milo start to play with time travel. The first alternate universe they encounter sees Danny become Kate’s stalker and Milo welcoming the return of his dead grandmother however things get weird when she starts to come on to him. I did have high hopes for Tripped due to the fact that its co-written by The Missing’s Jack and Harry Williams alongside Jamie Mathieson who has written for a number of different sci-fi shows. Unfortunately I never really got on board with Tripped as its key concept never appealed to me and its characters were rather one-dimensional. Although I liked the idea of two friends bonding together after several years apart, everything about the relationship between Danny and Milo was a little clichéd. Similarly I felt that the wonderful Georgina Campbell was once again wasted in the thankless girlfriend role just like she was in Sky One’s After Hours. On the plus side I do feel that this is the first successful post-Inbetweeners vehicle for Blake Harrison after the disastrous Edge of Heaven and Big Bad World. George Webster is also a promising talent however I don’t think he and Harrison shared much chemistry which hindered the majority of the story. Whilst I’m sure Tripped will find an audience, sadly I won’t be one of them as I found it a rather lacklustre execution of a promising premise.
Finally, as we’re now in December, it’s time for that annual tombola of light entertainment that is The Royal Variety Performance. I did think that the show had a slightly more youthful feel to it this year thanks in part to fresh-faced host Jack Whitehall and the fact that Prince Harry was the man selected to occupy the Royal Box. It was the interplay between Harry and Whitehall that made the early part of the show so enjoyable and for me there was very few highlights throughout the show. Even though the word variety featured in the title of the show, this year’s offering was very music-heavy with the likes of Kylie, Elton John, Ricky Martin, Little Mix and the soon-to-be-defunct One Direction occupying slots on the show. Even the comedians offered very little in the way of variety with both Chris Ramsey and Romesh Ranganathan doing sets on how much their children wind them up. The now annual tradition of seeing the Britain’s Got Talent winner at the Royal Variety Performance was rather underwhelming as the ofcom-bothering dog act of Jules and Matisse couldn’t live up to the shows they put on earlier this year. In fact the most notable element of the act was the fact that they were now billed as Jules, Matisse and Friends presumably so nobody would get offended if any more stunt dogs were revealed. Aside from Whitehall’s amiable hosting style my only highlights came in the form of an exert of the amusing The Play That Goes Wrong and Jimmy Tarbuck’s tribute to the late great Cilla Black. That being said I’d be lying if I didn’t find myself singing along to Jeff Lynne’s performance of ‘Mr Blue Sky’ and Elton John’s show-ending rendition of ‘Tiny Dancer’. Overall, even though I didn’t enjoy it as much as previous year’s offerings, The Royal Variety Performance is one of those traditions that is quintessentially British and I feel it,s something that would be sorely missed if it suddenly stopped being broadcast on the TV.
That’s your lot for now, I’ll return just before Christmas but in the meantime check out my TV-related thoughts by following me on Twitter @mattstvbites