There was a time in the recent TV past when it felt as if there was a new crime drama launching every other day but we’ve not actually had a new crime drama for a while. The Beeb’s decision to air the first two parts of their new trilogy: Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling over a hot Bank Holiday weekend may’ve seen a strange one but given the pedigree behind its author it’s no wonder they wanted to make it a bit of an ‘event’. The Strike novels are written by Robert Galbraith. Galbraith is the pseudonym of JK Rowling and she (sorry Galbraith) is credited as an executive producer on this first three-parter.
The Strike of the title is Cormoran Strike (no really, that’s his name) a private detective played by Tom Burke. Strike is a lo-fi indie Sherlock, with character flaws and hard luck a-plenty in the long tradition of detectives everywhere. He’s an absolute mess of a human being who walks the line between a scuzzy believable character, and an unlikely comic book hero. His terrible life is heavy-handedly introduced in the first few minutes. He’s punched, dumped and wading through final demands and bailiff letters in his nasty office-cum-bedsit. He’s charmingly disheveled with very attractive crinkly eyes, and on top of that he’s an injured war hero dealing with the loss of his leg and an uncomfortable prosthetic (which he, rather sweetly, occasionally talks to).
His office temp is Robin (Holliday Grainger), a smiley and self-possessed girl with a talent for accents to get what she wants on a phone call. She’s a sparky good girl with a dull pedestrian boyfriend who will obviously compare badly to Strike. She’s not Strike’s Dr Watson, more Doctor Who’s latest companion – resourceful and intelligent.
The case itself is sort of locked room mystery – a locked townhouse – with various wealthy elite types who may have been involved in the model Lula Landry’s death (Elarica Johnson). She goes home from a party one winter night, has an argument on the phone and the next thing she’s dived off the balcony onto the street below.
The investigating officer, a young walking haircut, is sure it was suicide. It’s clearly not. As is customary on shows Strike is initially is warned off snooping around any further, by Lula’s powerful uncle, which, as is customary only makes him more keen to get to the truth.
Lula Landry’s complicated family relationships resonates with Strike’s own misery and it seems they might have rich and difficult people in common. Special mention must go to the locations manager here as every interior looks fantastic. This is a city of greasy spoons, exclusive restaurants and crowded street scenes.
I love the beautiful aquatic blues everywhere, maybe linked to Strike’s thalassic analogy; he’s shaking up the suspects like fish in a tank – “you tap the glass and see how they react”. They’re aiming for a certain aspect of London away from the tourist traps. It’s a shame then that the place names are just as jarring as the character names.
One of Lula’s model friends tells Strike to get the “ginger line to Dalston Kingsland station”. You what? Strike lives and works above a series of record shops and what sounds like a blues club. There’s jarring jaunty music used throughout and extensively, as if there’s not enough dialogue to go round.
Burke does a reasonable job as Strike is who over the course of this double bill is yelled at, threatened, undermined, imperiously dismissed or swiftly seduced – the classic job description of a PI. He doesn’t feel like an incredibly original creation as he ticks all the usual boxes these characters tend to.
The first two episodes are uncertain in tone, neither serious enough for dark noir detective fans nor light enough for people who enjoy Death in Paradise It’s all a bit flat and cold until we see drunk Strike in episode 2, who Robin tracks down, feeds chips to and mothers. It seems he’s actually quite a nice drunk, worried about how London is changing and maybe how he doesn’t fit in any more.
The mystery is sometimes intriguing but in the world of Nordic Noir and shows like Unforgotten and Line of Duty Both the character of Strike and his style of investigation feels too gentile and old fashioned to pull die hard crime thriller fans in. By the end of this weekend’s double bill Strike has the answer – he knows who killed Lula. Do you? And is finding out reason enough to tune in next weekend? If you’re not an out-and-out JK Rowling fan already, it may be a struggle.
Contributed by Sarah Kennedy
Strike: The Cuckoo’s Calling Concludes Sunday at 9.00pm on BBC One.