Screen Shots: 9 March 2016

A week of TV that took us to Sweden via 1950s Cambridgeshire.

GRANTCHESTER (ITV)

Grantchester

If you listen to Mark Lawson (and I strongly recommend that you never do this under any circumstances), we are a nation on the verge of James Norton fatigue in the wake of his performances as Andrei in War And Peace in the New Year, psychotic Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley shortly thereafter, and now Sidney Chambers in series two of Grantchester. Personally, I don’t see the fuss: it perhaps suggests a lack of imagination on the part of casting directors and schedulers (particularly given that we’re not yet three full months into 2016 and we’ve also seen Charlotte Ritchie in three programmes, Tuppence Middleton in two, Stephen Rea in two, Julie Graham in two, Rebecca Front in two, and Tom Hollander in two shows airing opposite each other in the same timeslot, and that’s just off the top of my head), but he’s playing such distinct characters in all three shows that I’m perfectly able to ignore the fact that it’s the same actor behind them all. (I am, however, occasionally distracted trying to work out the filming timeline given that he’s sporting a shaved head in Happy Valley but long locks in the other two. It doesn’t look like there’s creative wiggery going on, but maybe Alicia Florrick has lowered the standards of wigs on television so far that it’s much easier to fool a person these days.)

Anyway, that’s more than enough digression: Grantchester is back for a second series and, suggesting that it is acutely aware of its audience, opened with a scene in which James Norton stripped down to his underpants and jumped into the river. (Robson Green did likewise, and I’m sure that excited a separate but equally enthusiastic corner of the audience.) Things took a sudden dark turn, however, when Sidney was arrested on his way back to the vicarage and charged with the sexual assault of a teenage girl. One of the things I liked about Grantchester‘s first series was that, for a chocolate-box pretty detective drama set in the 1950s where everyone has fantastic hair, it wasn’t afraid to tackle the seedier side of life, but they seem to have doubled – possibly tripled – down on that in this opening episode that featured a young girl being deflowered by a priest (spoiler: it was Sidney’s mate Sam, who turned out to be a wrong’un all along), posing for indecent pictures with an accidental child pornographer who didn’t know she was underage (who, in a particularly unexpected plot twist, is actually a divorced homosexual with a history of bribing the police to overlook his various transgressions and appears to be a possible love interest for Leonard the queer curate), and dying due to a botched DIY abortion that involved someone force-feeding her turpentine until she choked.

There was a lot to cover here, in other words, and I think it suffered a little bit for that: not only did everyone very quickly become perfectly okay with the idea of Sidney investigating a crime that he had only very recently been accused of himself, but there were so many developments in the plot that it felt a little bit hard to keep tabs on who knew what at any given moment. Perhaps because ITV’s crime dramas mostly take a feature-length format these days, it inevitably feels a bit of a rush to solve an entire story in one hour, minus commercial breaks. That said, while this specific case is over, it appears that it will have repercussions that will echo across the rest of the series, so I’m interested to see how all of that will play out. I just hope that some of the other mysteries aren’t quite so breakneck-paced.

THICKER THAN WATER (MORE4)

Thicker Than Water

I must admit to being slightly confused by Channel 4’s labelling of their new Scandinavian import as “a new Nordic noir to die for” – I get that “Nordic noir” has become a bit of a catch-all buzzword for anything made in Scandinavia, but I’m not really getting anything especially noirish about it from episode one. It takes place in a rural setting, mostly in daylight, and it’s a slow-burn drama about a dysfunctional family rather than a crime thriller.

My first impression was that the similarities to Denmark’s The Legacy (sadly languishing on Sky Arts where hardly anyone gets to see it, as far as I can tell) were striking: a woman with estranged children seeks to reconcile her entire brood before her own untimely demise, leaving the kids to bicker among themselves over what to do with her estate. I’m not particularly alarmed by the similarity, because this is one of those classic plot engines that has been used over and over again for centuries. It’s where you take it that matters, and I’m liking the groundwork that’s been laid here. While I grew to love The Legacy in the end, it took me a good four or five episodes to enjoy it properly, whereas the dynamics and characters in Thicker Than Water were instantly appealing right from the off. I want to know exactly what caused the rift in the family, why Anna-Lisa took her granddaughter off to see Jonna perform but never told her about it, why she chose this moment to try to bring everyone back together, and indeed why she ended episode one by rowing out into the middle of the sea and shooting herself.

The main gripe I have at this stage is that the first episode spent a good deal amount of time exposing the bad blood between Lasse and Oskar (they fell out over a woman, of course, but I do hope there turns out to be more to it than just that), and Jonna felt underdeveloped as a result. I don’t fully know what her beef is with her mother, or indeed why that meant she doesn’t see her brothers either – I would’ve thought the fact that she’s an actress who needs to be in big cities where the work is would have been enough justification to keep her apart from her family for plot purposes, but there’s clearly more to it than that. Hopefully she’ll get a bit more time in focus in episode two this week.

Oh, and because I like to discuss all the important things on this blog: Oskar is cuter, but Lasse has the better arse. More on this story as it develops.

AND IN BRIEF…

  • I’m struggling a little with the rift between Lee and Nancy in EastEnders at the moment, because the plot McGuffin that drove them apart (Whitney putting Lee up for a job that Nancy had been headhunted for, and Lee getting the job over Nancy) just didn’t feel plausible. It feels very much like they needed to be at cross-purposes for the upcoming plotlines, but the mechanics for getting them there were rather clumsy and as a result I don’t really care about their fight and I feel that it’s doing a disservice to Nancy as a character, quite frankly.
  • Considering that The Good Wife made rather a dog’s breakfast of its attempt to tackle Ferguson in season six, I anxiously await the development of the “all of the partners at Lockhart, Agos & Lee are racists” storyline and I hope they handle this one with a little bit more tact.
  • RIP Sister Evangelina from Call The Midwife. You shall be greatly missed (though I am glad we still have Nurse Crane when we need someone to be sensible and speak plainly).
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