The day drama gets a bit daft

THE UK’S BEST TV CRITIC DAMIEN LOVE RAMPAGES HIS WAY THROUGH THE WEEK IN TELE­VI­SION

Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

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?

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