Showing posts with label BBC crime series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BBC crime series. Show all posts

24 November 2018

ACK Not Again! Five Crime Series Plots that Deserve to Die


by Melodie Campbell  (Bad Girl)

You have to admire the Brits.  If they have a successful crime series, they don't automatically grow it
beyond one season (Midsomer, excepted.)  But the trouble with most crime series filmed, and also successful crime series in print, is they go beyond their best before date.  And by this I mean, they start to run out of plots - healthy original plots - and search madly for something, anything they haven't done before, including things that have been done to death <sic>.  The following tropes drive me crazy.

1.  The protagonist sleuth is the murder suspect.
By far, this one has me fired up to throw things.  Inevitably, every long-running series has one episode where the Detective Inspector, the PI or the well-respected amateur sleuth, becomes the prime suspect for a murder well into the series.  Into jail they go.  They've done it with Father Brown.  They've done it with Don Matteo.  Hinterland.  You name it.  Whenever I see this happening, I grit my teeth.  Why?

That plot is boring, man.  Obviously, they didn't do it.  If they did, then it is 'series over'.  And it can't be series over, because there are several episodes left, or a new season to download, and I can see that right on the screen.  So all we're doing is tediously waiting for the sidekicks to get proof that our beloved protagonist didn't do it.

2.  The protagonist and/or sidekick is held hostage.
This is the second plot trope that has me screaming Italian curse words at the screen.  This month, it was Don Matteo and Rosewood.  You can name others.  And again, this is boring. If they are all killed and don't get out, end of show.  But there are more episodes, so they obviously get away.  If we know the ending at the beginning, what's the pleasure in watching?

3.  The police officer protagonist is hated by his immediate superior.
One of the reasons I like Endeavor is because Morse's boss Thursday is such a good guy to young Morse.  In so many shows, including the original Morse, the detective superintendent or chief constable behaves like an out-of-control teen, lambasting our hero with manic fury.  He hates the protagonist, for no good reason we can see.  Or is it that he is so insecure, he can't stand someone who makes him and his department look good?  How demeaning.  By all that's holy, make this stop. 

4.  Young female sargeant has affair with older boss.
Okay, we all learned in the 80s and 90s: you don't have an affair with your boss.  It's stupid. It's career-killing.  It's also unethical, if he's married or you're married.  And yet, time after time we see this on the screen.  STILL.  IN 2018.

I cringe, because it perpetuates the ancient stereotype that young female police officers are not serious about their jobs.  They are slaves to their emotions.  They are willing to risk all for romance.  Writers, DON'T take me back to the seventies.  Just don't.

5.  The male Detective Inspector invites prime female suspect/witness to a romantic dinner.
Similar to the 'affair with the boss' above, this scenario gives high-ranking police officers I've talked to apoplexy.  No police officer is that idiotic.

Look, we all understand that tension is ramped up if there is personal involvement.  But come on, writers!  Don't make our extremely professional boys (and girls) in blue look adolescent.  It's insulting.

Just do the right thing.  Tell us a damn good story. And wrap things up before you sink to these tropes.

Melodie Campbell writes seriously wild comedy. You can find her latest crime books (The Bootlegger's Goddaughter and The B-Team) at all the usual suspects.  See this latest ad in Mystery Scene Magazine.   www.melodiecampbell.com




22 November 2017

"...This Sad Havoc"


David Edgerley Gates

East London, the 1890's. Whitechapel is still scarred by Jack the Ripper's terrors, and the men who police her streets are haunted, too. The late Victorian, a time and place of huge instabilities, that masquerades as a somehow immutable and granite-solid social and political norm, with its seething discontents just barely contained.

Ripper Street. A period series that's run five seasons. You'd think this ground had been pretty well ploughed and harvested by now, but not so. Sharp writing, animated characters, a terrific cast, and solid production values. This is the kind of thing the BBC does incredibly well when they bring their A-game. Downton Abbey as cop shop.


Matthew Macfadyen as Reid
Inspector Edmund Reid, commander of H Division, holds down the center, but Reid is nowhere near as foursquare as he first appears. His sergeant, Bennet Drake, later himself promoted to inspector, is likewise morally compromised. And the American surgeon, Homer Jackson, a former Pinkerton's man, may well be a fugitive living under another name. The whorehouse madam, Long Susan Hart, of suspect origins, also in flight. Lastly, the Yard's eminence grise, Chief Inspector Abberline, at one time lead detective on the Ripper case, who never caught his man.


Jerome Flynn as Drake
It's a charged dynamic, and it keeps shifting. The orbits erratic, the gravitational influences uncertain, as each major player moves their own boundaries. Drake, for example, is a bare-knuckles guy, what the Irish call a hard boy, but it's his softness that leads him astray. Reid is a self-righteous bastard, and trips on skirts because he sets the bar so high. (He carries the enormous guilt of blaming himself for his daughter's death.) All of this, and more, the scenery not a backdrop, but an ecosystem, a laboratory, a Petri dish that cultures infection. The medium is a character. Social position is destiny, capital is corrupt, brute strength is master.


Adam Rothenberg as Jackson
This is noir well before the term gained currency, and the interior darkness a dread that isn't named. The broken men who 'copper' these sooty tenements and narrow cobbles are honorable if not always honest - least of all with themselves - but they fear the deadening of their own hearts. The 'abyss,' Reid calls it. "Is it ourselves?" he wonders to Sgt. Drake, and Drake has no ready answer.


MyAnna Buring as Susan Hart
Bennet Drake, over time, comes to seem the most conflicted of the characters. Not that all of them don't have their individual weaknesses and ambiguities, but at first glance, Drake presents the fewest doubts and afflictions. He's muscle. He doesn't philosophize. Reid is supposed to be the brains. More often than not, though, it's Drake who shows the greater wisdom, and even restraint. They have a careful balance. Reid doesn't always know when to hold his tongue. Drake speaks less, and reveals more.


Clive Russell as Abberline
A mystery surrounds the two Americans, the surgeon Jackson and the businesswoman Susan Hart, but what they seek in London is reinvention. This might be counterintuitive, in a place so stratified by class, but in fact it gives them an advantage, because they can choose to erase the past. It's no disqualification, for an American. After all, they arrived from the New World. Others, however, are trapped. Whitechapel is both opportunity and quicksand, each of them a lure. There are masks, of convenience, of propriety, there is nakedness, of both flesh and ambition. There are predators and victims. The faint of heart don't prosper. "I would spare you," Bennet Drake tells the whore Rose, "from this sad havoc." But the knight of deliverance is no proof against calamity.

Ripper Street isn't allegory. It's flesh and blood, and plenty of it - full frontal gore, by and large - vivid and convincing. And this visible despair is always grounded in the iron courtesies and awkward frictions of class, a comedy of manners, you might say. Black comedy, and bad manners. An overcast of melancholy. A pinch of solitude. And the historical ironies, thrown into relief. It's an age of wonders, of industry and invention, the coming of a new century, but the dislocations of that new century are unlike anything we could have imagined beforehand. From this remove, Ripper Street foreshadows our loss, the end of innocence.