The day drama gets a bit daft
THE UK’S BEST TV CRITIC DAMIEN LOVE RAMPAGES HIS WAY THROUGH THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK Monday Rellik 9pm, BBC One Liar 9pm, STV
THINGS are getting silly. By this, I don’t mean anything that goes on in either of the two new dramas that begin Monday – although both Rellik and Liar, while keen to come on exceedingly serious, have varying degrees of daftness. Rather, I’m talking about the secret war raging between Britain’s TV schedulers.
Once, the major like-forlike ratings battles were confined to the weekend, when Strictly and The X Factor square up like boxers at weigh-in. Increasingly, though, the fighting has spread. With Rellik and Liar, we are witnessing a worrying escalation: two crime mysteries going out head-tohead that are not only aimed at the same thriller-loving viewer, but actually written by the same people, brothers Jack and Harry Williams. Placing the two six-part dramas side-by-side does them few favours. The Williams team is best known for The Missing, and both new shows operate in that same muddy, post-Scandi mode. Rellik is more blatantly Nordic, and dumber. That title isn’t a cool Eurospin on “Relic” – it’s “killer” backwards, a selfcelebration of the show’s pulverising gimmick, which is that it runs backwards. A serial-
killer story led by an acid-scarred detective (Richard Dormer), it begins after the suspect has supposedly been dealt with, then jumps back 10 hours for scenes showing us what happened earlier, and then keeps jumping back.
There’s no reason why this can’t work and, when Christopher Nolan did it 17 years ago, it worked wonderfully. But in Nolan’s ingenious neo-noir Memento, the reverse structure felt organic; it featured a protagonist unable to retain shortterm memories for more than a few minutes. Aided by a disarming central performance, it lent a shivering, increasingly sinister quality to every new scene.
In Rellik, though, the backwards plotting never transcends the level of showy writing stuntwork, not helped by moments such as when, just in case you haven’t noticed what they’re doing, the detective sighs: “If we could go back far enough, if we could understand why people do what they do … what if we’ve let something slip through the cracks?”
With every line muttered with the same furrowed-brow gravity, it gets harder to care. The biggest enigma is wondering: “Ooh, are we actually going to see him get drenched in acid?” The prospect of watching another five hours furl back towards the miserable dawn of time is less than appealing.
It doesn’t help that Liar’s first episode is similarly fractured – not running backwards, but diced up in flashbacks and flashforwards. (By their titling logic, it should have been called “Alri”.) In no particular order: a woman and man (the excellent Joanne Froggatt and Ion Gruffudd) go on a date; next day she claims he raped her; which is not how he claims he remembers it.
Where Rellik would prefer you to forget Memento, Liar hopes you’ve never heard of Rashomon, the classic story about conflicting versions of “the truth”. By the end of the first episode, though, rather than considering philosophical questions of perception, I felt I’d simply been forced into the queasy position of trying to work out whether a woman had been raped or not. This isn’t how I want to spend six Monday nights.
Is it possible the chronological trickery is being used to cover nervousness about the material: that these mysteries have no mystery, but are thin stories barely worth telling? As our schedules are swamped by a relentless tide of grim and grimy crime, you have to wonder, where did the fun go?