Category Archives: Television

Harlan Coben’s The Stranger, Netflix

Safe, the UK-set drama created by Harlan Coben, did great guns for Netflix when it was released a couple of years ago, so it’s no wonder that the streaming-service is hoping to repeat the success with The Stranger, all of which you can binge from Thursday, January 30th. If you’re reading this in 2022, you’ve probably seen it already. 

But this time, the series is based on one of Coben’s own novels. Richard Armitage stars as a man whose life is turned upside down when a woman approaches him in a bar and reveals to him a devastating secret about his wife – and it’s not long before he’s entangled in a conspiracy.

The Stranger is made by Red Productions, which also made the twisty-turny Safe, and adapted by British writing stalwart Danny Brocklehurst, which means Coben’s US-set crime novel has been relocated in Manchester.

Says Coben: “The Stranger was one of my most challenging novels — and definitely the most twisted. When I wrote it, I never imagined that I’d be part of a ‘Dream Team’ of extraordinary talent bringing it to life.’

Giri/Haji, BBC2.

You’ve burned through all the crime series on Netflix, and have a crimey series shaped hole in your life following the end of Peaky Blinders and The Capture on BBC1. You need another fix and quick. The Dublin Murders, based on the books of Tana French, has started, so that’s good, but you’re looking for something more. The enigmatically titled Giri/Haji may fit the bill.

Giri/Haji is a soulful thriller that explores the butterfly effect of one murder upon two very different cities, sees celebrated Japanese stars Takehiro Hira and Yosuke Kubozuka leading the Japanese cast.

Kenzo is a Tokyo detective and family man who is abruptly dispatched to London by his superiors in the police department to search for his missing younger brother Yuto, the honour of his family at stake. Arriving, he becomes drawn into the shadowy world of Abbott and Vickers (Long), a once lucrative business partnership now under threat, as the former now looks to the East to expand his empire.

Distant from everything familiar to him, Kenzo unexpectedly finds hope in a remarkable makeshift family of Londoners, each in turn confronting the tumultuous, spiralling effects of fateful past decisions. Among them is charismatic rent boy Rodney and Sarah, a Met detective investigating the London murder, who begins to present a delicate threat to Kenzo’s marriage.

The action moves between Tokyo and London, as Kenzo attempts to stem the violence engulfing both cities and to confront his own part in it.

Writer/Creator Joe Barton said the genesis of the idea came from a conversation he had with a former girlfriend.

“She’d just started studying for a Masters in Forensic Crime Science at UCL and was telling me about her first day. Her fellow students were mostly recent graduates like her, except for one – a middle aged Japanese man, sat at the back of the lecture theatre on his own, diligently taking notes and looking out of place amongst his other, younger, classmates.

It turned out he was Tokyo detective, sent over to learn about forensic procedures used by the Met Police. Something about the image of that man sat by himself in a strange room in a strange country, many miles from home, stuck with me.”

Eight episodes long, Giri/Haji – which means Duty/Shame, by the way – starts on BBC2 on Thursday, October 17.

TV Crime Log: Aquarius

AquariusHere’s an odd thing. Aquarius starts tonight on Sky Atlantic at 9pm. It’s a fictionalized account of events leading up to the Tate Murders about a cop, Sam (sounds like Zodiac) Hodiak – played by David Duhovny – investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl.

The creator of Aquarius stresses it’s not historically accurate, and is inspired by Charles Manson and his Family, rather than anything else, but it’s a curious whirligig of fact and fiction set in 1967 LA, man, and planned to run over the course of six seasons.

What’s odd about Aquarius, since you’re asking, is that it has been bumping along the bottom of the network ratings – I mean, it it would be hard-pressed to lose any more viewers – and yet has been picked up for a second series. So someone out there has been bingeing on demand.

TV Crime Log: Pines, Affair, Strange

Wayward PinesA while back we reviewed Blake Crouch’s Pines, his bonkers but moreish thriller/sci-fi mash-up. You will, of course, be mortified that you missed that marvellous review and will click here immediately. Do that now and then come right back.

Righto, welcome back. Anyway, someone – that Sixth Sense guy, I believe – has seen fit to bring his trilogy of books to the small screen as Wayward Pines. 

Basically — what do you mean you didn’t click? — it’s about a Secret Service agent who finds himself trapped in a picturesque US town. There are electric fences and towering cliffs and homicidal nurses, and at one point the whole town — men, women and children — band together to hunt him down. Small towns can be like that sometimes.

Anyway, Matt Dillon’s in it — we like Dillon here and wish he was in more stuff — and Toby Jones and Melissa Leo and some other people you vaguely recognise from other shows. The first episode goes like the clappers and sticks pretty close to the source material, with its audacious central conspiracy.

And don’t worry about Wayward Pines turning into some vexatious Lost-style scenario when years later you’re still staring, eyes like dates forgotten in the sideboard, at the screen. Waiting for someone, anyone, to tell you what’s going on. Wayward Pines delivers answers in a few, short episodes.

Wayward Pines is on Fox at 9pm on Thursday.

The AffairWe’ve also very much been looking forward to The Affair, which you can see the day before that. Man and woman embark on affair. Some people sit in a police interview room and recount how something happened. That’s it, really. But it’s riveting stuff and unexpectedly picked up a Golden Globe. Dominic ‘Sparta’ West is in it, and the always wonderful Ruth ‘Alice’ Wilson.

That’s on Sky Atlantic Wednesday at 9pm.

Jonathan Strange And Mr. NorrellA few years back everyone was talking about Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell. So I read it, sticking Susannah Clarke’s big slab of a book in my bag and hefting it every day to work. Quite apart from the back pain, I remember having decidedly mixed feelings about it. As I remember there was some kind of sprite thing, with lovely hair, getting up to all sorts of nasty capers.

However, the trailers for the BBC1 adaptation have certainly been intriguing, and I’d watch Eddie ‘Donovan’ Marsan in anything. Anyway, it’s about two magicians who fall out quite badly during the Napoleonic Wars.

That’s Sunday night at Quality Drama O’Clock on BBC1.

TV Crime Log: Empire, Enfield & Game

EmpireEmpire slips onto our screens with this week with little fanfare, but in the US it has been quite the phenomenon.

It arrived quietly only for the ratings to unprecedentedly rise every week — every single week — until, by the time the first season ended, it was the highest-rating drama for many years. It’s a drama about Empire Enterprises, a fictional hip-hop music company and the family battles for control of it, a kind of gangsta Lear.

Empire is on tomorrow night at 9pm, on E4. That’s the one that’s like More4, but with less Grand Designs.

I’m afraid that for the rest of this post I am obliged to take you back to the 70s, whether you want to go there or not.

Time was, nobody would touch that tired decade with a bargepole. Then along came Life On Mars and everyone remembered how much they loved –- or convinced themselves they loved — clackers and butterscotch Angel Delight, and now it’s quite the place to be.  Ah, and how we miss the Cold War — with its Dead Letterboxes, Heathside Safe Houses and those loveable Sleeper Agents next door.

The GameSo I’m looking forward to The Game. It’s a spy drama featuring Brian Cox as Daddy, the Head of MI5. The trailers make it look very Tinker Tailor indeed, with one of those sound-proof rooms made out of egg boxes, brutalist menswear and people smoking, like, a lot.

The blurb is majestic in loons:

London, 1972. When a defecting KGB officer reveals the existence of a devastating Soviet plot by the name of Operation Glass, the charismatic head of MI5 must assemble a secret committee to help protect Britain.

As the Soviets awaken sleeper agents to carry out the plot, the new team are faced with an unidentified and invisible threat.

The first agent reactivated is a civil servant, bullied and blackmailed into working for the KGB. As MI5 scramble to identify his role in Operation Glass, Joe Lambe becomes obsessed with the reappearance of his nemesis, the Soviet agent codenamed Odin.

I think The Game has been sitting around on a shelf somewhere at the BBC for quite a while before being activated –- I hope that doesn’t portend problems. It begins on Thursday at 9pm, on BBC2.

The Enfield HauntingThere’s more dodgy 70s haircuts in The Enfield Haunting. This is the account of –- it says here –- real events that took place in an ordinary house in Enfield in 1977. For whatever reason, a poltergeist kicks off big time. You may remember those sinister photos of girls bouncing up and down on their beds while David Soul smiles blandly from a poster on the wall.

Adapted from Guy Lyon Playfair’s book This House is Haunted, the drama is based on extensive documentation, recordings and witness statements. Its got a top-notch cast, too, including Timothy ‘Turner’ Spall and Matthew ‘Edmund’ Macfadyen

In this age of wall-to-wall cop and lawyer and medical shows, it’s nice to see Sky Living doing something different. It’s on Sunday at 9pm.

TV & Movie Crime Log: Safe, Stonehearst & Ultron

Safe HouseChristopher Eccleston plays a man who runs down-at-heel lodgings in a new ITV series. I think you can guess, if its Mr. Eccleston, that it’s not going to be a reimagining of Rising Damp. In Safe House, Chris’s guests are actually going to be people in witness protection, so I can confidently predict that shit is going to go down over the course of four or so episodes.

The blurb likes its eggs fried, thank you:

Former police officer Robert and his wife Katy left city life behind them after Robert was injured, whilst trying to protect a witness in his care. The witness, Susan Reynolds was fatally shot. Robert has been struggling with the guilt he feels over the death of Susan.

In a bid to put the past behind them, Robert and Katy now run a guest house, hidden away in the idyllic Lake District. A surprise visitor turns up, DCI Mark Maxwell, an ex-colleague and old friend. He suggests that the guest house is perfectly positioned to operate as a safe house, Robert is tempted but will Katy agree?

Later, DCI Maxwell finds himself dealing with a family left reeling from an unexplained assault. The father, David, has been hospitalised and an innocent passer-by is in a critical condition. DCI Maxwell needs to work out why this family was targeted and track down the assailant.

Mark calls Robert to see if he and Katy will take David, Ali, Louisa and Joe Blackwell and keep them safe. They agree. Deep down Robert wants to protect this family to prove that he can still do the job – and make sure that this time nothing goes wrong.

Settled into the guest house the Blackwell family adjust to life in a safe house. The man hunting the family is being investigated by Mark who turns to Robert for help and from within the safe house Robert undertakes his own investigation into the family.

The only member of the family not in the safe house and unaccounted for is the eldest son, Sam. He is away at university, but worryingly no-one has seen or heard from him in weeks.

I think I kept up with all that. It all sounds very exciting, and the plan is to make Safe House into a returning series –- with a different family on the run every time –- if it does well. But don’t put it past ITV to sneak some gleaming spires in there somewhere. You can see it tonight at the usual ITV time of crime o’clock.

Shutter Island, Gothika, 12 Monkeys, Shock Corridor, Stoker. Hollywood loves movies set in asylums. Don’t we all? And Victorian insane asylums, with their glinting instruments, sinister corridors, cliffside locations, gibbering loons and lack of decent dentistry, are even better. So along comes Stoneheart Asylum, which is apparently based on a story by our old friend Edgar Allen Poe.

In old photos of Victorian asylums, the inmates are all toothless and bulbous and look — well, insane. In Stonehearst Asylum, however, they look like Kate Beckinsale.

The blurb is secretly slipping its medication beneath its tongue:

There’s another film out this week. I, for one, have never heard of it, It’s called Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I strongly suspect — and I have absolute confidence in my assertion — that it will come and go at your local multiplex without touching the sides.

TV & Movie Crime Log: Thrones, Child

Game Of ThronesI’m going to make a confession. I love me my genre stuff –- I mean, that’s obvious, right? — but I’ve never really managed to get into Game Of Thrones. Its free-form, sprawling storytelling, with no end in sight, has never gripped. Don’t judge me, I appreciate I am very much in the minority here. It seems to become ever more popular with every passing season.

It’s based, of course, on George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire books. Mr. Martin has still to complete two volumes of his opus and seems in no hurry to do so, which has put him at odds with the belligerent wing of his reading public.

Look, I know many of you are compelled to ask yourself what would Crime Thriller Fella do? before committing to stuff, but don’t let me put you off watching the fifth season, particularly if you’ve slogged your way through the four previous ones. That would be just silly.

Dragons, lots of nudity, lots of violence, little chaps and big walls. It’s on Sky Atlantic at 9pm tonight, Monday. But you knew that anyway.

Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 was quite the debut seven years ago. It’s certainly the most-celebrated and successful of the ever-expanding brigade of stoic Soviet detectives tiptoeing their way through a treacherous and dangerous Stalinist state where crime doesn’t officially exist.

The novel was based on the crimes of Andrei Chikatilo, the so-called Rostov Ripper, who was executed for 52 murders in the Soviet Union.

Now comes the inevitable movie version, out this Friday, and it’s got a hell of a cast. Gary ‘Tinker’ Oldman, Tom ‘Mad’ Hardy and Vincent ‘Mesrine’ Cassel among them, none of whom have ever been accused of under-committing to a role, and all of who can be seen energetically clicking out those Russian consonants in the grim trailer.