Spending the last few weeks battling with an exciting respiratory tract infection has given me an unusual amount of time to become closely acquainted with both my sofa and various television offerings. You will be no doubt startled to hear that my preference is for crime drama programming and luckily for me, now is a wonderful time to be a TV crime fan.
It’s all thanks to BBC4 and their shock success with the Danish series The Killing. I’m not going to say too much about that as, really, you’d have to have lived in a box not to have come across it. Even the Duchess of Cornwell is a fan and for good reason. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s beautifully written and acted and has excellent knitwear.
My crime TV of choice used to be UK and US based. I grew up with Suchet’s Poirot and Hickson’s Marple, and it’s to Miss Marple I return if ever I’m feeling defeated by the world. Again, it has the bonus of good knitwear. CSI was a favourite for a while but accidentally watching a ton of CSI Miami cured me of that. Bones was good until it jumped the shark and I still have a soft spot for NCIS and The Mentalist. But after a while all these shows felt tired, the same tropes being recycled between them over and over again. If there’s a guest star of moderate fame, he’s going to be the killer. So I stopped watching. For a while, I thought I could get into sci-fi because I liked Battlestar and Firefly but then I gave my husband the Farscape boxset for Christmas. Cripes.
My salvation was discovering that transcribing even the most overused idea into a foreign setting and language makes it feel fresh and new again. Take, for example, Ne le dit á personne, the film version of Harlan Coben’s Tell No One. The perfectly serviceable source material is transformed into something altogether edgier and interesting by its Gallic makeover.
Perhaps it’s a kind of shift that enacts this change, from one cultural and aesthetic context to another. Perhaps, too, it’s the distance created by the form of transmission; in the majority of these programmes you have to follow the subtitles – does this create a greater engagement, a more active participation in the viewing process?
Regardless, this sudden increase of interest has resulted in a raft of programmes becoming available. So, Killing aside, which ones have I found most worth watching?
Before The Killing came Spiral, a fast paced and gritty French drama following the investigations of Laure Berthaud and her squad. Little seems to separate the flics and the delinquents here; violence and corruption are everywhere and everyone is tainted. Berthaud’s drive to root out evil doers seems driven by obsession rather than morality, and she seems destined to destroy both herself and those around her in the process. Of the three series available, the first and third are most worthwhile but it’s all compelling viewing. I just couldn’t get over Laure’s hair in series two.
The Swedish version of Wallander is excellent if unsurprisingly bleak. The levels of violence, both physical and psychic, make it difficult viewing anyway, even if one can get the tragedy of Johanna Sällström out of one’s mind. The acting and writing are perfectly in harmony with the source novels, as it the flat, monochromatic style of shooting. There are great pleasures to be had here but they are bitter ones.
Those Who Kill, another Danish offering and Inspector Montalbano, from Italy, while entertaining enough are not quite up to this standard. Those Who Kill was a bit too ‘murder of the week’ to engage as well as it might and it felt oddly lacking in ideas for a first series. Having your protagonist kidnapped twice by serial killers makes her seem a bit crap at her job, frankly. And whilst I loved the glorious locations and the energy of Monalbano, it just didn’t have the warmth and wit of Camilleri’s novels.
So it’s over to you. What series should I watch next? Are there any UK or US shows that might capture my interest? Please comment below.