There’s a telling moment in Irvine Welsh’s new BritBox detective series, Crime, co-written with Dean Cavanagh, when the chief superintendent, played by Ken Stott, chides Dougray Scott’s character, DI Ray Lennox: “You’re not a god, you’re a law enforcement officer, get a grip.”
Even by the standards of TV detectives (a sphere where mental stability is an optional extra), Lennox has a saviour complex that make Jesus Christ seem like a bit of a slacker. A recovering addict (drugs, alcohol, overwork), soon he’s recovering no more as he handles a child-murder investigation he believes is the work of a serial killer called the Confectioner. A detective with a punishingly high moral code, he staggers through the six episodes (all now available to stream) like a modern-day Bible story. Though Lennox has a chance of happiness with his girlfriend (Angela Griffin), secrets from his past swarm like bluebottles.
Directed by James Strong (Broadchurch) and David Blair (The Street), set in Welsh’s signature Trainspotting terrain of Edinburgh, Crime is based, though not faithfully, on the 2008 novel of the same name, and is the first of Welsh’s books to be adapted for television. Scott (Enigma; Mission Impossible 2), who also co-executive produces, is teamed with Joanna Vanderham (What Maisie Knew; Warrior), a detective sergeant with the nervy candour of a young DCI Jane Tennison. The plot evolves into an unapologetically sticky stew, involving paedophilia, corrupt politicians and #MeToo, all garnished with the fermented slurry that passes for the human condition.
Crime’s finale is confused, and I question the taste levels of showing a (poetically posed) child corpse, though similar objections could be raised about the dead fictional women who routinely litter our screens. While it is occasionally overblown – at times it was difficult to tell whether characters were happy, sad or had burst an appendix – this pithy, spry Scottish production makes a bracing change from English thrillers, which too often comprise identikit middle-class characters politely sighing next to posh mixer taps in fabulous kitchens. Amid a strong cast (watch out for John Simm refusing to play nice), Scott delivers a triple espresso shot of characterisation as a maverick who’s almost bored with being a maverick.OxyContin on to the public like painkilling sweeties.
Directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man) and others and based on the book by Beth Macy, this is a (cue capital letters) SERIOUS drama, with a scrupulously journalistic tone that occasionally verges on documentary. A prestigious cast includes executive producer Michael Keaton as a doctor who unwittingly pitches his small Appalachian mining community into addiction, Peter Sarsgaard and Rosario Dawson as investigators, and Michael Stuhlbarg as messianic pharma giant Richard Sackler, who wants to “cure the world of its pain”.
Stuhlbarg is a fine actor, but at times he overplays Sackler to Montgomery Burns levels. Nonetheless, three episodes in, with events zigzagging across a decades-spanning timeline, Dopesick is worth the effort: starkly contrasting the ruined mining community with the moneyed stealth of the OxyContin drivers, demonstrating how big pharma sleights of hand (misleading labels; dubious concepts such as “breakthrough pain”) lulled people into addiction. Kaitlyn Dever (Booksmart; Unbelievable) is poignant as a young lesbian miner who becomes addicted after being injured in the pit. Another young addict, played by Alayna Hester, is viewed snarling through a car window: “Fifty for a blowjob, 100 if you want to fuck me.”
Ew. I feel unclean after watching the five-part series Tiger King 2 on Netflix. Just writing about it now makes me want to disinfect my keyboard. During the 2020 lockdown, the first series, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, was a global phenomenon watched by millions. It introduced audiences to the US big cat world and the colourful characters who inhabited it: Joe Exotic, the openly gay owner of an animal park, and Carole Baskin, boss of a big cat sanctuary, whom Exotic accused of being involved with the disappearance of her husband, Don Lewis (she denies ever even being a person of interest in the case), and many more dead-eyed supposed “characters” holding tiger cubs in one hand and rifles in the other.
Now Baskin, who has appeared on Dancing With the Stars, is suing Netflix for continuing to use her footage, and Exotic is serving 22 years in jail for hiring someone to murder Baskin (he appears here, over the phone from jail, fuming about his innocence). Whatever appeal the first documentary, also directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, had for the lockdown masses (rubbernecking on the rednecks?), it’s gone now. The focus is on feuding between animal park owners, the disappearance of Lewis, efforts to get President Trump to pardon Exotic (astonishingly, Trump declined) and the merciful intervention of authorities and animal charities. Be warned that the animal abuse on display is nauseating: it will Taser your soul to see so many mangy, sad-eyed lions, cheetahs and tigers. Towards the end, some beasts are released into a sanctuary where they have space to roam. It’s a relief, but too little, too late.
For Sophie Deveson’s BBC Two documentary Bridget Riley: Painting the Line, cameras filmed the esteemed nonagenarian artist for more than two years, in her studios, in the blustery Cornwall of her wartime childhood and as she installed a giant mural at the National Gallery in 2018. Riley’s influence as an innovative cultural figure, female trailblazer (though she disliked being viewed as the “poster girl for the 60s”) and “titan of abstract art” was duly celebrated, not least by fellow artist Tracey Emin, who declared her “revolutionary”.
These days, certain of Riley’s pieces, with their dots, checks and triangles, could be thought to possess a magic-eye quality, but that would be denying how they live and breathe, pulsing and transforming as you look at them. It’s a treat to observe the artist in this warm, respectful documentary, either chatting with Kirsty Wark or in old 60s footage, where – a total minx in black – she’s giving Emma Peel a run for her money.
What else I’m watching
The Lakes With Simon Reeve
Did intrepid documentarian Simon Reeve mistake Cumbria for Colombia? In this three-part series he visits the Lake District, talking to people who are fighting to conserve wildlife and habitats, and joining teenagers on their first trip to Windermere.
Empire State of Mind
Journalist and author Sathnam Sanghera (The Boy With the Topknot) endured racist trolling after publishing his latest book, Empireland. His two-part docuseries explores how the British empire still shapes the national mindset, fostering lingering delusions of superiority.
The Great British Bake Off
Jurgen’s matcha gelatin showstopper got him thrown off. Next week’s finalists are all worthy winners, so viewers can focus on the real issue: why does judge Paul Hollywood stand as though he’s guarding a sacred tomb?
• This article was amended on 29 November 2021 because an earlier version, referring to Dopestick, misattributed a line to a character played by Kaitlyn Dever. whereas the line was uttered by the character played by Alayna Hester.