Three More Gritty British TV Series

~River There is something about this show that just immediately pulls you in and wont let go. Stellan Skarsgard, who plays River, is so raw and mesmerizing. Never before has anyone managed to convey such a wide array of emotions in such a short amount of time without uttering a single word. A momentary flash of happiness will collapse into grief while scorn twists itself into anger and then guilt. And it is all excruciatingly painful to watch. But in a good way. Sort of. River is a brilliant detective with a secret: he sees dead people. There’s a girl from a cold case whom we initially believe to be his daughter, a boy from a current case who has died under unfortunate circumstances as well as Thomas Neill Cream, a real life mass murderer from the 1800’s about whom River has been reading. They all show up at odd moments and manage to enlighten him and antagonize him in equal measure. But none manage to taunt and needle quite like Stevie, his dead partner, whose death has left him broken in his grief, heartbreakingly shown in his defeated, slumped posture and deep, sad gaze. Stevie, however, is all lightness and disco music to River’s broody doom and gloom. Every scene she is in sparkles with an energy that ensures that this programme keeps its head above water. It is River’s obsession with finding her killer that forms the main mystery although there are others which are touched upon as the show delves into the cruel world of racism, immigration and mental illness. What makes it complex and multilayered is that as River picks away at Stevie’s murder it becomes clear that things may not be as they seem. He discovers that she had a second phone and withdrew a large amount of money right before she died. Meanwhile, forced sessions with police psychologist Rosa, enlighten us over time as to the origins of all of River’s issues. Slowly, a big knot of questions and puzzlements unwind and disentangle bringing everything into sharp focus. River also has a new partner, Ira, who is married with a child which grounds him in such a way that he manages to absorb all River’s odd eccentricities. He watches him talk to thin air and lash out at his manifests with a bemused air. No judgement, just a quiet determination to rein him in when he can in an attempt to spare him the embarrassment of others. There’s no denying that this is a hard show to watch but it’s so beautifully written and so exquisitely acted that it would be a shame to miss it.

~Jack Taylor Jack is an alcoholic with a self-destructive bent who drinks his way out of a job on the garda (Irish police force), has more demons than hell itself and while bulldozing his way to the truth tends to bring misfortune to those he loves. And even if Jack’s not directly responsible for any collateral damage he has a tendency to shoulder the guilt anyway. Hand guilt to an alcoholic and things get ugly fast. Deadening the pain with alcohol leads to more than one lost weekend and makes it a bit difficult to solve his cases. It’s all terribly cliched really, but Iain Glenn, as Jack, stops it from sinking under its own weight. As the ultimate flawed hero he plays the raffish bad boy extremely well. He has the craggy, well-worn face and cheeky charm that fits the bill perfectly. It’s a hard-boiled, noirish show, all dark and gritty and plays out on the mean streets of Galway. The first two seasons are the best. The third seems to have been produced by somebody different. It gets a bit of an overhaul and maybe too much spit and polish, with Jack inheriting some money with which he buys a trendy little apartment. In the opening scene he’s battling an espresso machine which, quite frankly, seemed pretty out of character. Everything about the show felt lighter and less gritty. Even the acting by supporting characters felt a bit amateurish. I must confess to feeling a little puzzled by it all, but Glenn makes it worth while. This being Ireland, a couple of the mysteries involve the Catholic Church — and none of it’s pretty. Mistreatment by nuns, abuse by priests but the episodes also give a window into Jack’s past and his relationship with his highly religious mother.

~Line Of Duty This series is intense. The first few minutes of the very first episode cover a police counter-terrorism incident that goes horribly wrong. The subsequent attempt at a cover up causes DS Steve Arnott to cry foul and refuse to lie. This gets him a spot on an anti-corruption police squad known as AC 12. His partners in crime are DC Kate Fleming, who does a lot of undercover work, and their boss Superintendent Ted Hastings. Each of the four series stands alone with the investigation of a different character. But don’t watch them out of sequence because running in the background throughout all of them is a brilliant story line of police corruption. Now, when you have a police squad who are investigating their own you end up with layers upon layers of mistrust and suspicion and the seriously crazy bonkers twists and turns in this show will make your head spin so fast you’ll feel like that poor girl in The Exorcist. The first series stars Lennie James (you might recognise him from the Walking Dead where he plays Morgan ) as a DI with an impeccable record who’s just been awarded Officer of the Year. AC 12, of course, has their own opinion of him. Series 2 involves a DI who is the sole survivor of an ambush of a car convoy transporting a criminal. Series 3 is about an officer who shoots a runaway suspect and series 4 involves another DI in charge of a case that goes awry. It’s hard to go into any detail other than that, suffice it to say that nothing is as it seems, until it is, at which point it isn’t. The acting is brilliant, the writing is genius and the tension that it all creates takes hold and hangs on for dear life.

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