The week in TV: Collateral; Shetland; Rough Justice and more

From thwarted pole-vaulters to terrible drummers, it seems cop shows are reaching ever further for those dark backstories

Collateral (BBC Two) | iPlayer
Shetland (BBC One) | iPlayer
Rough Justice (More4) | All 4
Homeland (Channel 4) | All 4
Seven Year Switch (Channel 4) | All 4
Still Game (BBC One) | iPlayer

Collateral slammed shut as loudly as it began those confusing few weeks ago, rattling the shutters with echoes of a good yarn bothered by preaching. For “bothered”, read “harpooned through both knees”.

David Hare’s drama did indeed (of course) turn out to be a state-of-the-nation piece of work, but one delivered with far less subtlety and nuance than we might have expected. It was essentially about three things: a murder, and attitudes to “good” and “bad” immigrants, and (of course; this is David Hare) the general filthy-bastardness of the security services. It was almost wholly redeemed by Carey Mulligan, as DI Kip Glaspie: Mulligan practically solved the murder bit with one hand tied behind her back.

But what could have been a timely exploration of our oh-so-nudgeable attitudes to immigration was almost wholly ruined by poor John Simm, as a righteous lefty Labour MP, vouchsafing such appalling duds as “Keep people out because we’re rich and they’re poor and that’s the way it’s going to stay for ever? History tells us that’s never going to work.” Simm’s acting talents, as wonderfully evinced last month in the frankly superior Trauma, were hogtied throughout with such sub-2:2 Sociology lines. And what was the fine Nicola Walker ever doing there as a lesbian vicar, other than being a pretext to shout (preachily): lesbian! Vicar! Yes! It’s 2018! Or 1992 or… something! Get with the groove, daddy-o!

But Mulligan, as I say, almost saved this: she makes a caustic, chirpy, wonderful copper, her face poised forever between a sneer and a quirky wink. Although Jeany Spark, as Capt Sandrine Shaw, ran her close in the concluding episode, almost managing to make one feel sorry for a cold-blooded, borderline racist, overprivileged military murderer: we should hope to see much more of Ms Spark.

Glaspie was of course an ex-championship pole-vaulter come to grief. All telly detectives have to be. Either that, or a bipolar genius, or an amputee, or a jazz fiend, or an OCD drunk. I do sometimes wonder how they get so many crimes solved. Perish the thought that I should argue for the polar opposite – we’d get the (not even first but second) Barnaby in Midsomer Murders – but Dougie Henshall seems to be doing a bang-up job as the relatively unscathed, borderline normal, DI Jimmy Perez in Shetland. A hugely rounded, sane, chiselled and finessed creation, Perez (and Henshall) remind us of the strengths of having a writer – Ann Cleeves, whose novels the series is based on – think long and hard about characters rather than simply assigning traits. This so-toothsome series is building tremendously to a revelatory climax.

Douglas Henshall and Stephen Walters in Shetland
‘A chiselled and finessed creation’: Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez, with Stephen Walters in Shetland. Photograph: Mark Mainz/BBC/ITV Studios

Over in Belgium, however, More4’s Walter Presents has given us more ’tecs with quirks in Rough Justice. Liese Meerhout relaxes from murders by banging – thoughtfully, badly – on a drum kit. She even has a drum kit as the screensaver on her crime-busting laptop – and drives a big, old, yellow, tank-like Merc, and frequents gay clubs, and has a drunken loser sidekick who resembles Dave-the-beta-one from The Hairy Bikers. For all that, it’s not at all bad. I’m seriously looking forward to tuning in next week, though the frenetic pace has one rather longing for the longueurs of Scandi subtitling.

Another week in Homeland, another damaged crime-fighter, although a beautifully realised one in the shape of Carrie Mathison, whose lithium dose has suddenly stopped working. When even Carrie can admit “impulse control is becoming a problem. It’s safe to say I’m not as risk-averse as I should be,” your own impulse is to glance to your left for impending Armageddon. This, too, even these few episodes in, is starting to simmer tremendously: Saul locked into a Waco-style siege in backwoods Buttfuck, West Virginia, sneaky chief-of-staff David Wellington overriding his president to bomb Syria (a filthy-bastardness twist of which David Hare would surely approve and yet hand-wring), all is nicely poised: all we’re really waiting for is the four horsemen.

The latest bout of gleeful marriage-wrecking sponsored by C4 took the shape of Seven Year Switch, the best thing about which was the title, the only thing at all leavened by wit in this long hour. Four couples struggling with their marriages – eight people, at least three of them utterly appalling, and all of those men – get sent to Thailand to live for a fortnight in sun, luxury and one double bed, with one of the other, swapped, partners. Ostensibly a “social experiment” to find whether the marriages can be saved after seven years, it’s of course nothing of the sort, but a voyeuristic slice of trash. The question is not whether any of the four marriages can be saved: the question – apart from why three of the men have survived until adulthood while being to all purposes, both functionally and emotionally illiterate – is why any of the pairings ever got together in the first place. It’s awful, savagely prurient hogwash, and it’ll be wildly popular.

The cast of Still Game.
‘1,000,000% cleverer and funnier than any entire series of Mrs Brown’s Boys’: Still Game. Photograph: Alan Peebles/BBC Studios

Still Game returned to our screens. It has something like a 70% penetration in Scotland and many fervent fans south of the border, and any random 30 seconds are still only 1,000,000% cleverer and funnier than any entire series of Mrs Brown’s Boys, but I wonder if it’s not in danger of beginning to run its course. It cantered through all the houses amiably enough – Boabby trying to gentrify The Clansman, jokes about lemongrass and insanely overpriced bottled beer – but cantered at very much one pace, one note, throughout. (Yes, I do appreciate that I’ve just invited 70% of Scotland to appear outside my nice New Town flat with pitchforks, torches and angry cries of “bawbag”.) Or perhaps it only suffered by reappearing in the very week another Scottish comedy series was (temporarily, we pray) ending; for the third series of Two Doors Down has been, again, a triumph.

It all got a bit slapstick at the very end admittedly, Doon Makichan’s Cathy having been driven to extremes of toxic jealousy by a nicer, newer, younger, bustier version, but has still given us a blistering distillation of flawed Scots humanity. As if there’s any other kind.


Euan Ferguson

The GuardianTramp

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