Matt on the Box: This Week’s TV Highlights: George Gently, DCI Banks, Inside No. 9 and The Big Reunion

by | Feb 9, 2014 | All, Reviews

With the weather outside becoming increasingly volatile you would think that the TV would provide some sort of comfort and escape from the storms outside. Unfortunately, two new dramas this week appear to want to focus on the melancholic aspects of life rather than providing any sort of uplifting moments.

The first of these was a nostalgic police drama set in the 1960s, but as we already know George Gently is definitely no Heartbeat. Following the dramatic scenes at the end of the last series which saw Gently (Martin Shaw) and Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) being involved in a shootout at Durham Cathedral. Though both were injured in the exchange, thankfully they both survived or there wouldn’t have been room for this sixth series. However, when we first join them, Gently and Bacchus are odds with the latter still getting over his injuries at a police convenience home. Although his liaison with one of the nurses hints that he’ll soon be back to his full strength, it appears as if Bacchus is done with the police after he hands his resignation letter to Gently. But Gently doesn’t let Bacchus give up that easily and tells him that he must work a month’s notice before he quits. Bacchus begrudgingly obliges but is incredibly cold towards his former friend, believing that Gently is someone who just doesn’t feel anything. The pair are assigned to a case where an unidentified man has died in the cells at Newcastle Police Station after being arrested as part of a protest. Using an unreturned library book to identify the deceased Simon Thomas, the pair are soon torn whether one of their own committed murder. The duo find themselves fighting a losing battle as the Newcastle coppers wonder why the detectives are spending their time investigating the murder of a useless drug dealer whilst one of their colleagues is gravely ill in hospital. Gently’s only ally at the station is new recruit Rachel Coles (Lisa McGrillis) who is later framed by her co-workers. In addition to telling the story of the case, this episode looked at how views towards the police were changing at the time and they were no longer as respected as they once were. The story of the renovation of the town also focuses on how people were reluctant to change where they lived despite the squalid conditions.

Even though I enjoyed the themes of social upheaval and the changing attitudes to the police, there’s no denying that ninety minutes is a big ask to spend watching any programme. Every time I’ve watched George Gently in the past, I’ve had the same feeling, namely that the running time could at least be shaved by at least fifteen minutes. This is because every scene felt stretched and some didn’t need to exist at all as they had no bearing on the final reveal. Indeed, I’d already worked out who’d committed the crime about ten minutes before the end and so I began twiddling my thumbs waiting for Gently to make the same conclusion. What kept me watching was the subplot concerning the strained relationship between Gently and Bacchus. It was Bacchus’ changing attitude towards the man he once respected which made ‘Gently Between the Lines’ such a compelling watch. It was interesting to see Bacchus’ transformation and how he returned to his love of policing via his friendship with Rachel Coles. Lee Ingleby’s performance as Bacchus was great throughout and I found him the most involving member of the entire cast. You could tell exactly what Bacchus was thinking just from a few of Ingleby’s facial expressions and I feel that’s the mark of a truly great actor. Martin Shaw continues to make Gently an enigmatic presence on screen and he has now perfected the gruff tones of this period detective. The chemistry between Shaw and Ingleby made George Gently that little bit more watchable and you could really believe that Bacchus was struggling to work alongside his fallen idol. In addition to the main cast, I felt Lisa McGrillis was brilliant as the idealistic young WPC who learnt that the world of policing wasn’t as straightforward as she first imagined. After really enjoying her work in Hebburn, it appears as if McGrillis can turn her hand equally well to drama and I’m hoping we’ll see lot more from this young actress in the near future. Ultimately though I feel that the extended running time of its instalments are the downfall of George Gently and I have to admit that I had almost switched off before the final credits rolled.

Another dour crime fighter who returned this week was DCI Banks as he was assigned to an equally traumatic case. Not that you’d know it from the episode’s opening scenes which saw Banks (Stephen Tompkinson) don an apron and host a barbecue at his lovely little cottage. But it was soon back to business for the team as a young mother (Christine Bottomely) enlisted the help of Banks in finding her son. But the disappearance of Kyle Heath (Oliver Woollford) wasn’t a simple abduction as his mother Katy watched him being taken by a couple claiming to be social workers. Katy soon begins to trust Bank’s number two Helen Morton (Caroline Katz) who is dealing with problems concerning her eldest son. Katy is horrified that the police consider her to be a suspect, but at the same time she does hold a certain amount of information back which could be useful to the investigation. Meanwhile, fresh back from maternity leave, Annie Cabot (Andrea Lowe) feels that Banks is trying to cushion her from dealing with the harsh realities of the case. But Annie’s questioning of the teachers and students at Kyle’s school does unearth some interesting facts concerning Kyle’s whereabouts the night before his abduction. With his mother out till all hours, it seems that Kyle was left to his own devices and spent his time dealing drugs and gambling in the local arcade. These revelations perplex the police who have no idea who the couple are and if either of Kyle’s parents has anything to do with the case. But, as a body is found in the closing moments of the episode, it does appear as if the case is going to get a whole lot more complicated.

Whereas I had problems with George Gently’s pacing, I found that DCI Banks zoomed along and never really paused for any breath. The case itself did have several of the hallmarks of a classic TV investigation namely a tearaway young lad, a negligent mother, a council estate conspiracy and everybody pointing fingers. Luckily, the story had many twists and turns most notably the fact that we got to see how Kyle’s captors were treating him. The main investigation story was perfectly mirrored by the problems that Helen was having with her own son. It appeared as if the writers were trying to allude to the fact that it doesn’t matter what background somebody comes from there’s always the chance that they’ll at up. In addition to the central case, I have to say I enjoyed the relationship between Banks and Cabbot. The suggestion that Banks wants to treat Cabot differently tells me that there’s romance in the air between the two, especially considering the way he looked at her at the barbecue. But her accusations of him trying to ease her back into work would suggest otherwise and I feel the relationship between the pair is another interesting element that makes DCI Banks seem different from other cop shows on television. Stephen Tompkinson’s central performance is another positive as he makes you really care about Banks and adds an extra dimension to a character that could easily have drifted into caricature. But I personally felt that Tompkinson was overshadowed by his two leading ladies who were both seemingly given more to do. Caroline Katz was perfect as Helen,a  woman who was trying to split her complicated home life with a possible murder investigation. I also felt Andrea Lowe was equally fantastic as the more likeable but similarly intelligent Annie. Though DCI Banks isn’t exactly the most original crimed drama on TV I feel that every part of it is well-produced and that in itself is a novelty. More than anything else though I really want to see what happens next and that to me is the sign that the drama really has done its job.

As a big fan of The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, I’d really be anticipating Steve Pemberton and Reese Shearsmith’s new series for some time. Unlike their previous programmes, Inside No. 9 deals with a different situation and story every week. The only similarity between each episode, aside from the participation of Pemberton and Shearsmith, is that the action takes place entirely in a house with the no.9 outside. The first episode, entitled Sardines, saw a cast of famous faces play the titular game in which one by one a group of characters found themselves stuffed inside a wardrobe. The game was part of a party to celebrate the engagement of Rebecca (Katherine Parkinson) to her partner Jeremy (Ben Willbond) and was taking place in the large mansion she grew up in. However, the mansion held some very dark secrets for Rebecca and her brother Carl (Pemberton) due to something their father (Timothy West) did there when they were little. This episode was indeed a star-studded affair with other cast members including Anne Reid, Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Tim Key. I have to say I wasn’t disappointed with the first helping of Inside No. 9 primarily due to the great writing from Pemberton and Shearsmith. The script combined the two things they’re best at doing namely awkward comedy and sinister conclusions. The fact that at least half of the episode took part inside a wardrobe was a bold move but one that worked brilliantly. I have to say I laughed almost all of the way through and the duo make you anticipate some of the gags before they happen, especially in the case of ‘Stinky John’. The final act of the story was expertly done and left you rethinking what had happened once the episode had finished. While I’m a little upset that the duo aren’t doing another linear series, as character progression is something they thrive upon, I think it’s great that they’re being allowed to experiment in this way. After having watched the second episode I can also report that it’s completely different from this week’s instalment apart from that sinister tone that Pemberton and Shearsmith have perfected over their time together.

One of the biggest surprise hits of last year was definitely The Big Reunion as everybody felt a programme that reassembled pop acts from the 1990s and 2000s would be a bit tacky. While the production values weren’t exactly amazing; the combination of nostalgic pop hits and eye-opening behind-the-scenes stories captured people’s imaginations and resulted in some impressive viewing figures for ITV2. A second series was also going to be a reality but, when the line-up was announced, I couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed. Though Eternal, Damage and A1 were all properly famous at one time or another, 3T were never a big deal while the inclusion of a so-called supergroup made me believe that somebody pulled out at the last minute. But the biggest surprise was the participation of Girl Thing, a sub par Spice Girls rip-off who were really only around for a cup of coffee. However, it was their story that was the most intriguing in this first episode, mainly as it told the tale of a group of young ladies who were promised fame and fortune by Simon Cowell. The publicity thrown at them didn’t result in a big hit and the promotion of their second single was mishandled from the get-go. The biggest revelation was that their third single, which would be their big break, was going to be ‘Pure and Simple’ which would ultimately be given to Hear’Say. After this it was all over and the five girls went in very different directions with one marrying Kian from Westlife and another popping down the local shop to top up her gas key. Meanwhile, Damage hit us with the usual combination of drugs, arguments and debts that we’d heard a lot during series one. The problem I feel that we’ll have with this series of The Big Reunion is that the acts themselves don’t really have that many memorable songs. So, while I found the story of Girl Thing fascinating, I’m not really that bothered about hearing them sing their two hits. In fact the one song that was stuck in my head after the show had finished was ‘Pure and Simple’ which I’m sure the girls won’t be able to sing on legal grounds. While I feel the best is yet to come, with the story of the Eternal break-up, I have a feeling that this series of The Big Reunion won’t match the quality that series one delivered.

For more of my views on TV follow me @mattstvbites

Matt Donnelly

Matt Donnelly


Made in Staffordshire, Matt is the co-editor of the site and co-host of The Custard TV Podcast. Matt has been writing about TV for over fifteen years and has written for the site for almost a decade. He's just realised this makes him a lot older than he thought he was.


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