Did we like it?
Curiously we did (someone, apart from those involved, had to). We admit that for some shows we spend the hours sharpening our claws ready to gut the show we’re about to view with the savagery of a tiger on a calf, and this wilfully quaint detective drama was a prime candidate for such evisceration. But a combination of character chemistry and tranquil mystery proved an agreeable way to spend an hour. And it was much better than The Royal.
What was good about it?
• The characters may all be self-consciously wacky, but they all quickly established themselves – Gil Mayo (Alistair McGowan) has a keen eye for anomalies whether grammatical errors or character flaws; Alex Jones (Jessica Oyelowu) is his ex-girlfriend and new detective sergeant; Martin Kite (Huw Rhys) is a deluded womaniser who thinks more of his sports car than his job; and Harriet ‘Anorak’ Tate (Loo Brearley) is a conscientious, socially-retarded misfit who can sieve through forensic details.
• There was something reassuring about the lazy pace of Mayo’s investigation into the suspicious death of a wealthy cocaine addict who was killed by a heroin overdose moments before the shed in which he was in burned to the ground.
• The suspects were lined up and easily dismissed as innocent. The parade began with the owner of the treatment centre Dr Rossi. He spoke in a nauseatingly pompous fashion. “Some people call me ‘S for saviour’,” he gushed. “But I prefer ‘E for enabler’.”
• While the irascible architect was soon found floating face down in the river, and Mayo’s musings meandered onwards until he, almost by accident, discovered that the architect’s secretary was the dead cocaine addict’s sister who had begun to take drugs to blot out the shame of their incestuous affair. As an actress, she had used her drama skills to get a job with the architect to unmask the fact that he had stolen her brother’s designs and passed them off as his own, but bumped him off after her brother took his own life.
• The quirky, jaunty piano-led incidental music was initially quite vexing, especially as it piped up when Gil was on the verge of making a breakthrough. But then it took us on a timewarp back to our childhood as it was redolent of the Inspector Clouseau cartoons in the Pink Panther cartoon show (you remember that, it was always lined up on FA Cup Final Saturday as a sacrificial lamb in the schedules should the game go to extra time). And we were swamped by joyous memories of little cartoon men landing with a gravelly bump and squinting, slightly camp Spanish cops.
• The sparky repartee between Gil and Alex.
• A near abandonment of the latest technological gadgets to solve the crimes. Granted, Anorak’s purpose is to forensically analyse the crime scene, but the most hi-tech she got was to follow a trail of leaking oil to a car used in an attempted hit and run.
• The comical chase in golf carts that was an amusing parody of more masculine, testosterone-based detective shows and neatly bracketed Mayo as a comedy drama.
What was bad about it?
• The photographs from Gil and Alex’s old relationship from about 16 years before looked as though they had been taken the previous week.
• When the mood was clumsily traversed from the flippant to the grave in the banter between Gil and Alex in which they would suddenly reach a point when one or the other would kill the mirthful onslaught from the other with a crowbarred-in biographical detail. It first happened when Gil chided Alex for moving back to the country which she stopped dead when she revealed her mother died, a favour Gil paid back when Alex mocked him for his apparent domestic bliss only for Gil to tell her that his wife had left him three years earlier.
• The peculiar tone of the drama meant that death is sometimes used as a source of humour, most notably by DC Kite. Now such levity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does dampen the dramatic impact of other instances of death – Alex’s mother, the drug addict – and their effect on people. This was observed best in the denouement when a distraught Lucinda was threatening to drive her car off the cliff and kill herself and her brother’s lover. If she had done, you imagined that Kite would have made a witty quip about Anorak having to clean up the mess while the whole team repaired to the pub for a jolly knees-up.