The newspapers were all pretty interested in the fact that Murder, a one-off BBC2 crime drama, was directed by Birger Larsen, who also made the first series of the Danish drama The Killing. There were lots of pieces about the no-nonsense red filter through which he filmed the city of Nottingham and what this would do for tourism there (not a lot, one imagines). But the real story, surely, is what effect the success of series such as The Killing is having on more mainstream offerings.
Take Good Cop on BBC1 (Thursdays, 9pm), which stars the baby-faced Warren Brown, an actor who made his name in Hollyoaks. Would it be so violent had The Killing not been such a hit with the middle classes? I doubt it. In the old days, BBC1 criminals used to beat their enemies’ heads to pulp off camera, in a bedroom no viewer could see. Now, though, they do it in plain sight, the blood spattering the Anaglypta wallpaper with proficient abandon.
Is this violence gratuitous? Not at all. Its grimness – I watched it from over my shoulder, back defensively to the screen – helps us to understand why PC John Paul Rocksavage (Brown) will soon commit a crime of his own (the dead copper was his partner). Nevertheless, it’s important to consider these things. If British producers are going to replicate only the regulation gore of Scandinavian crime, they will be doing us all a disservice. No one watched The Killing because it was bloody (though it sometimes was). They watched it for the dialogue, the characterisation and the narrative tension; its success lay in information withheld, not in baseball bats and fake blood.
I like Good Cop. It’s full of unshowy but convincing performances; the set-up is intriguing; I want to know what is going to happen next. Brown is a stolid sort of an actor but in this role you can’t help but root for him (Rocksavage is a good man in a bad world – though now I’ve described him, he does sound awfully clichéd). On the other hand, this is an excessively crowded sort of a drama. Beyond the central storyline –will his colleagues cotton on to what he has done, and if they do, will they protect him or turn him in? – there is rather too much going on. Rocksavage has a poorly father (Michael Angelis), to whom he reads Stevenson in bed. (Yes, Robert Louis Stevenson.) He also has an estranged girlfriend and a six-year-old daughter, whom he appears to want to win back. Plus, he is distractingly kind to policewomen, waitresses and runaway boys. Personally, I think the narrative could do with paring down, especially now we’ve established our hero as a good bloke. Sentimentality is still the thing that most often curdles British television drama for me – though the fact that this series was created by Stephen Butchard, who also wrote the brilliant and brazen series House of Saddam, means that I live in hope. No one could have called that sentimental.
Can BBC1 compete with the splashy cashrich Sky when it comes to drama this autumn? As someone who truly dreads October, I hope so. But you have to worry. Good Cop is first out of the traps. It will soon be followed by the series with which it co-starred in BBC1’s big autumn trailer: Shetland, starring Douglas Henshall (yet another cop drama, this one adapted from the novels by Anne Cleeves); The Secret of Crickley Hall, starring Suranne Jones (a haunted house story adapted from James Herbert); and Ripper Street, starring Matthew Macfadyen (a tale of Whitechapel detectives post the notorious murders).
I can’t say that the thought of any of these has my heart beating wildly. Each one sounds either vaguely reminiscent of something I’ve seen elsewhere (ITV adapted Vera from Anne Cleeves; it also has a series called Whitechapel), or has a star of whom I’m already tired (the ubiquitous Suranne Jones is adorable, but whatever the part she is always the same and must therefore be used sparingly). New ideas seem to be pretty thin on the ground. Is this connected to ratings fear or shrinking budgets, or both? I don’t know. All I can tell you is that, as the nights draw in, I’m clinging hard to the fact that Matthew Macfadyen appears to look truly excellent in a bowler hat.