Rachel Cooke on an atrocious comedy police drama.


The BBC mysteriously chose to screen Sherlock, starring the inestimably brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch, while everyone was on holiday, and only recommissioned the series (or so I read) once the superb ratings and rave reviews were in. But lightning doesn't strike twice and the summer schedules, as any fool knows, are mostly crammed full of dross. The hour I spent watching Vexed (15 August, 9pm) was one of the longest of my life. Boy, how I wished for Match of the Day 2 to hurry up and start. As the minutes ticked by, I began to feel actual love for Colin Murray - a state of affairs I sincerely hope won't last.

Crikey, Vexed is bad, though I can't say I was expecting very much. The BBC is styling it as a "comedy drama" - words that cause almost as much alarm in this house as the phrase "moist intimate wipes" - and, sure enough, it was neither funny nor dramatic. I laughed only once and that was when Jack (Toby Stephens) was seen merrily cracking the spine of Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie in order to convince a woman to whom he was attracted that he was reading it.

Although this isn't a particularly funny joke, I have interviewed Rushdie, and a more pom­pous man you could not hope to meet. I imagined the great author cosily tuning in and then having to switch over all crossly to The Unforgettable Jeremy Beadle on ITV1, and that was what made me laugh. I know. I'm very childish and mean.

How to describe Vexed? Well, it's sort of like Hart to Hart, only without the big hair and the money. And it's vaguely like Moonlighting, only without the sex. And it's a tiny bit like The Bill, only without the serious interest in police procedure (in Vexed, you are unlikely to see anyone putting anything carefully into a small, plastic, ziplock bag).

Basically, it's about two cops, Jack and Kate (Lucy Punch), who dislike each other but who also might, at some point in the near future, enjoy a snog while staking out some warehouse or office block in their bright blue BMW. (Do police officers drive BMWs? Someone should tell Theresa May.)

The "comedy" results from their being both quite dumb and incompetent. The soundtrack is old hits - Blondie and stuff - and muted trumpets, and the feel is weirdly 1980s, for all that it's set in the present day (supposedly). The two of them even hang out in what looks suspiciously like a wine bar.

It's indescribably lame. In one scene, Jack and Kate, on the trail of a killer who was preying on users of a certain supermarket loyalty card, were communicating by means of hidden earpieces. Jack said something Kate disliked, so she whacked her microphone in order to trumpet-blast his ears. Cue giant wince from Stephens. This piece of physical "comedy" (I'm sorry about the inverted commas; I just don't know what else to do) was then repeated three times within the space of about three minutes. Ha, bloody ha.

Stephens is a good actor but he's woefully miscast here. Comedy isn't his thing, and he utters every line with his brow ironically furrowed, his eyebrows raised and in a sort of awful transatlantic drawl. His character is a sexist pig but thanks to Gene Hunt (Life on Mars), I feel I've had my fill of amusing, sexist-pig detectives. Punch is a better comedian (she's in the next Woody Allen film - though that proves nothing whatsoever, not these days) and yet she has nothing to do here other than look long-suffering and confused.

Her character has a husband, Dan, who is played by Rory Kinnear. It's plain insulting to cast an actor of Kinnear's calibre in a "comedy drama" and then give him only about three lines to boot - but I expect he will feel pretty relieved about this outrageous iniquity once the reviews have all rolled in.
Vexed is whiffier than the cheese some of you were undoubtedly eating over on the other side of the Channel even as it screened (lucky you). It probably will not be recommissioned. And here in Blighty, we still await a British "comedy drama" that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 23 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan