Damien Love’s TV highlights including the return of Broadchurch
Broadchurch 9pm, STV Broadchurch is back, but do we want it? A Scandistyled drama following the investigation into a young boy’s murder and its effect on his small community by the sea, the original series became a phenomenon in 2013, the kind of must-see appointment TV that streaming and bingeing is supposed to have killed. But where some of the other most talked about British crime shows of recent years have managed to maintain their intensity, and in some cases amplify it, as they’ve returned for subsequent outings – Happy Valley, Line Of Duty, Unforgotten – writer Chris Chibnall’s programme stalled badly with its second series in 2015. It didn’t just drop the ball. It sat there crying about it.
Partly, the reason Broadchurch 2 failed was because it had ambition enough to attempt something potentially very interesting. Whether old-school crime-of-the-week shows like Columbo, or recent sagas like The Killing, where each case forms an entire novel-length series, traditional TV cop formula dictates that, once that mystery is solved, next time we return we’ll follow our central detectives on into another case. But Chibnall had his sights on something else, something ostensibly more realistic: a return that would explore the crime’s after-effects on the people involved, following the consequences of actions, inactions and lies as they continued rippling across people’s lives. It was a good idea, but, as it turned out, not one that Broadchurch’s framework could support – cut it how you like, the first series was a Whodunit at heart, with characters lined up like Cluedo suspects. Very quickly the plot degenerated in a fit of ridiculous convolutions as it attempted to eke more out of the previous story. Whenever it all got too implausible, Chibnall attempted to paper over the cracks by throwing in someone weeping, which rapidly became the series’ self-parodying signature shot. With almost every moment over-egged, cheesed-up and weighed down by the soggy weight of its supposed emotional significance, the prospect of watching the parade of sad faces crying slowly over a fictional crime we solved a year earlier soon held little appeal.
To a degree, as the new series begins, it seems Chibnall has hit reset and admitted what fans always knew: Broadchurch’s best thing is its odd couple cops, Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller, who, as played by David Tennant and Olivia Colman, have a simple, scratchy, soulful chemistry you just want to spend time watching – to the extent that you’re prepared to quietly ignore the fact that, given everything that’s happened previously, it’s improbable they’d still be working together. Broadchurch 3 moves closer to the traditional path, then, following our detectives into a whole new case. But Chibnall approaches this new crime with a weight, seriousness and a level of care that is rare. The story begins with the report of a rape, and much of its first episode is devoted to the victim’s trauma, shock and pain, the details of the systems she must go through as police seek to take evidence from her body, the process of swabs and sealed bags. This character, Trish, is played by Julie Hesmondhalgh. As the Coronation Street faithful know, she has long been one of British TV’s most remarkable actors, but she is truly exceptional in this episode. The scenes between her, Colman and Tennant were enough to leave me hoping this series could turn out to be something special. Then again, my heart sank a little when it became clear how Chibnall remains determined to shoehorn and hammer characters from the previous series back into the storyline yet again. But we’ll see.
SS-GB 9pm, BBC One Maybe the preview episodes sound different, but I’ve had no trouble following the dialogue in SS-GB, which was the subject of much supposed mumblegate outrage last week. (Many complaints targeted Sam Riley’s John Hurt-like gravel whisper – but this is how the guy talks.) As it is, I’m finding the slow-burning adaptation of Len Deighton’s novel easy to sink into, a mix of pure pulp, paranoid fantasy and serious intent that’s good to look at and fascinating in its weird picture of a 1940s Britain under Nazi rule; a place where it’s not surprising some characters feel the need to whisper. As tonight’s episode begins, Archer (Riley) is racing to prevent his son from being snatched from choir practice, but finds himself cast in the role of collaborator when his new SS boss steps in and begins rounding up teachers and children as Resistance suspects. While his old cop mentor Harry (James Cosmo) presses him to decide which side he’s on, Archer ploughs on into the murk, and begins to glimpse the bigger picture.
The Replacement 9pm, BBC One Writer-director Joe Ahearne is on terrific form with the first episode of this three-part drama, a cuckoo in the nest psycho-thriller set in Glasgow, charting the increasingly nasty clash between two women with simmering issues. Morven Christie plays Ellen, an architect who stands on the brink of the biggest break in her career when she wins her firm the contract for a prestigious library job. When she discovers she’s pregnant, she doesn’t see why the happy news should make any difference. But as she begins handing the building project over to her eager new maternity cover, Paula (Vicky McClure), she’s seized by the notion that Paula wants to take everything away from her – and not just in work terms. As their dance of suspicion and jealously unfolds, Christie, who was so great in The A Word, delivers another brilliant performance, while McClure, all smiles and sympathy, imbues every scene with a slightly off, deeply uncomfortable undertow. Ahearne directs without fuss, but slips in cheeky nods to Hitchcock – and Glasgow looks fantastic.
Little Big Shots 8pm, STV Dawn French gives her all as the peppy presenter of this bright, loud and glittery new entertainment series that will be a delight to many, and be the stuff of pleasehelp-me-I’m-in-hell living nightmare to some others. Based on an American format, the idea is a bunch of precociously talented kids performing the stuff that they’re precociously talented at: tonight, some play piano, some dance, some sing, some kick footballs around while shouting their own daft wee commentary, and one does all this mad Shaolin kung-fu business. It’s not a Britain’s Got Talent-style competition: there are no judges, no big prizes waiting to be won, no winners or losers. Just some children doing stuff they love for an audience, while French cheers them along, helps them out, and asks them questions. Not for everyone, but it’s worth seeing the nifty nine-year-old kung-fu expert Junayde once he gets whirling with his massive swords, if only for the PLEASE DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME notice that flashes up on screen.
Prime Suspect 1973 9pm, STV There’s the sinking sensation of an opportunity missed as this long-awaited Prime Suspect prequel arrives, seeking to do an Endeavour on Jane Tennison. As the title suggests, it’s 1973: you can tell because everyone keeps talking about how it’s 1973 – “How can you not know about Watergate? It’s all over the news,” says one detective to another; “Mum, it’s 1973,” underlines the young Jane (Stefanie Martini). This clunkiness sadly carries through into almost every aspect, as the usual murder case (a young prostitute killed in an alleyway) grinds into gear. From the fake rain to the distracting soundtrack to the slow-motion scene introducing some drug addicts as though they were rock and roll zombies, clichés abound. Buried beneath lies a potentially interesting story about a smart young woman trying to stake a place in the harsh boy’s club of the 1970s police force. But, while Martini is fine, she doesn’t ever suggest a young version of the Jane that Helen Mirren gave us. Maybe it will grow, but nothing really sparks to life tonight.
Lethal Weapon 9pm, STV Unless I missed it, the world was hardly crying out for a TV series reboot of the 1987 Mel Gibson-Danny Glover buddy cop movie that went on to launch a thousand sequels. But, if we must have one, it could have been a lot worse than this. Clayne Crawford steps into Gibson’s mad shoes as Riggs, the cop on the edge, left suicidal following the loss of his wife and throwing himself into his work with the death wish recklessness of a man who believes he has nothing left to lose. Damon Wayans plays his new partner, Murtaugh, an older, steadier by-the-book detective and family man, being even more careful than usual following a heart scare. Around their pleasingly effective odd-couple chemistry, the series ups the high octane content, all guns, fast cars and stuff blowing up. Proper popcorn. It feels weird seeing an American cop show on ITV at primetime these days, but it left me wishing they’d gone the whole throwback hog, and put it out at teatime on Saturdays. Never hurt The A-Team.
Artsnight: Martin Scorsese – True Confessions 10pm, BBC Two Across January and February, the British Film Institute held a major Scorsese retrospective, and this week the director himself flew in to London to appear in conversation onstage, discussing not only his own movies, but his still raging passion for cinema in general. The event sold out fast, but thankfully the BBC snuck cameras in so we can all get to sit in. Film journalist Nick James interviews the great man about Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Wolf of Wall Street and more, and the themes of masculinity, religion, crime, and life in New York that keep recurring. It’s followed by Scorsese’s real breakthrough movie, 1973’s Mean Streets, a raw backstreet rock-and-roll opera caught between pulp and the pulpit, with Harvey Keitel as Charlie, a mafia boss’s nephew with heavy Catholic guilt, looking for a way to atone for his sins. The opportunity comes in the explosive shape of his pal, Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro), a holy, out of control idiot, who owes money he has no intention of paying back...