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.

TV & Movie Crime Log: Code, Daredevil, Tatau, Wick & River

Code Of A KillerThere’s a genuinely fascinating drama on ITV tonight, about the birth of DNA fingerprinting and how it was first used to catch a killer. The introduction of genetic profiling changed murder investigations — and crime-fiction — forever. Code Of A Killer is based on the extraordinary true story of Alec Jeffreys’ discovery of DNA fingerprinting and its first use by Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker in catching a double murderer.

Please open your mouth so the blurb can take a swab:

In 1983, in a small village outside Leicester, 15-year-old Lynda Mann is found by a footpath, raped and strangled to death. A year on, after an exhaustive but fruitless search for the killer, Detective Chief Superintendent David Baker is forced to scale down the investigation.

Meanwhile, just a few miles up the road at the University of Leicester, scientist Dr Alec Jeffreys invents a remarkable technique to read DNA – the unique genetic fingerprint of every individual – something never previously achieved despite decades of research across the globe. His discovery is first put to use in an immigration case, proving the parentage of a young Ghanaian boy and preventing his deportation. The acceptance of Jeffreys’ findings in a court of law opens the door to DNA testing and he and his university laboratory are swamped by paternity and immigration cases.

Summer 1986, and 15-year-old Dawn Ashworth goes missing – last seen just a hundred yards from where Lynda’s body was discovered. Dawn’s body is found two days later, she has been strangled and hidden in undergrowth near a footpath shortcut. DCS Baker is back on the case – convinced the same culprit has struck again. This time the investigation bears fruit when a young man from the area is seen acting suspiciously at the time of Dawn’s murder, confesses to her killing. However, he refuses to admit he had anything to do with the death of Lynda Mann.

Reading about Jeffreys’ work in a local paper, Baker approaches him at the university – perhaps the DNA test can prove the teenagers involvement in Lynda’s death? Jeffreys is hesitant – the DNA sample from the murder scene is nearly three years old, and the technique was not intended or designed for criminal investigation. Furthermore, having only been used in paternity and immigration cases, would the findings be accepted in a criminal court?

But Jeffreys is able to obtain a clear genetic fingerprint of the murderer from a sample and it proves that the teenager did not kill Lynda Mann… could the murders have been committed by two different men, or is he innocent?

Code Of A Killer stars John ‘Master’ Simm, and the hardest-working man in showbusiness, David ‘Titmuss’ Threlfall. The first episode of this two-parter is on at 9pm tonight.

DaredevilMarvel’s ever-expanding cinematic universe comes to Netflix on Friday with its new 10-part Daredevil series. You may – if you’re unlucky — remember a Ben Affleck movie of the same name that crashed-and-burned. But we are promised a more gritty outing this time round.

Daredevil is the blind superhero, the Man Without Fear, who defends the few blocks of Hell’s Kitchen from villains such as Kingpin and Bullseye. A tough job back in 1964, certainly, when Hell’s Kitchen was laced with crime and poverty, but these days it’s all boutiques and macrobiotic restaurants, so I reckon I could make a good fist of the job.

The plan is to roll out other Marvel supers on the network –- Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Iron Fist –- and then team them all up in The Defenders. The MCU has gone from strength-to-strength in the cinema, but so far Marvel’s TV output — S.H.I.E.L.D. –- has been less than compelling. Let’s hope Daredevil can turn things around.

TatauBBC Three’s new Pacific Island mystery series is called Tatau and starts on Sunday night at 10pm.

The blurb hints at a supernatural vibe:

A pair of 20-something friends from London, Kyle Connor and Paul ‘Budgie’ Griffiths are travelling the world looking for sun, fun and adventure.

Excited about their eventual destination – the Cook Islands – Kyle has designed and had inked on him a Maori-style tattoo. But when they arrive on the beautiful South Pacific island of Manutaki his marking soon provokes unexpected reactions from the locals.

The two throw themselves in to island life, flirting with the ladies and sampling a local hallucinogenic drink. But their fun comes to an abrupt end when, while snorkelling in a lagoon, Kyle finds the body of local girl Aumea tied up underwater – dead. Returning to the lagoon with the police, Kyle finds her corpse has disappeared. But Kyle knows what he saw, despite the protestations of his friends and the locals Mauntaki residents…

Desperate to uncover what has happened, Kyle and Budgie enter a world of Maori myths, symbols, and visions that will change their lives forever.

There are also couple of films you may want to considering seeing at the end of the week.  John Wick has garnered a bit of a cult following for its gun-fu and chop-socky hijinks, and loving homage to many a tough-guy revenge thriller. Keanu Reeves is the titular hero, a man who goes on the rampage when some punks kill his puppy — and, frankly, who can blame him? You simply do not lay a finger on a guy’s dawg.

All the Fellas on the Board have a soft spot for for Keanu, and wish him well. And, hell — gun-fu! What’s not to like?

All you ladies out there seem to have a thing for Ryan Gosling. But his directing debut, Lost River — a fantasy neo-noir — so fucked with the critical faculties of the audience at the Cannes Film Festival that they didn’t know whether to boo or clap — so in a state of heightened confusion they did both.

It’s about a young man who discovers an underwater town, or something, and Matt Smith’s in it playing a bully called bully. It’s brooding and full of meaning, or has no meaning at all — depending on whether you fancy Ryan Gosling, probably.

Lost River opens in ‘key cities.’ Now go finish your eggs.


TV Crime Log: Gracepoint, Thunderbirds & Vera

Now this doesn’t happen very often, so make a note of this. We’ve got three shows for you, and they’re all on ITV. True, you’ve seen them all before in one way or another…

GracepointAdventures in time and space are nothing to the timey-wimey sense of déjà vu that David Tennant must have had filming Gracepoint, the US adaption of Broadchurch. I believe, at one point, Tennant was filming both at the same time.

However, that’s not going to be a problem going forward. While the UK mothership marches on to its third series, this US-version kind of took a tumble off a big cliff in the ratings, which is why it now turns up on ITV Encore. Encore is a channel for stuff you’ve seen before, which in a sense is true with this particular drama.

However, we are assured that Gracepoint — which also stars Skylar from Breaking Bad, Nick ‘48’ Nolte and Jacki ‘Kingdom’ Weaver — takes some unexpected turns, threading new storylines through the familiar Broadchurch narrative. This time the action and the angst is transported to a small Californian seaside town.

You can see that on ITV Encore on Wednesday at 10pm.

Thunderbirds Are Go!Also turning up on ITV Five! On Saturday night Four! Just around tea-time Three! Is a very old favourite Two! Fifty years later One! Thunderbirds are Go!

These days, the Tracy Bros –- named originally after the Mercury astronauts — look like they should be forming their own boyband rather than flying hugely-expensive pieces of high-tech kit into disaster zones. The two pastimes are not mutually exclusive, of course, but both careers are quite time-intensive.

However, some of the trailers for this have been quite beautiful, with the series opting to use a mix of CGI animation and live-action model sets. Twenty-six 30-minute new episodes of the Gerry Anderson classic have been produced, and the first is on Saturday at 5pm.

Whatever happens — whatever you think of someone rebooting a beloved part of your childhood — just remember that it simply can’t be as bad as that obscenity of a movie they made a few years back.

Rosamund ‘Gone’ Pike is Virgil — no, wait, I read that wrong, she’s Lady Penelope — and original cast-member David Graham is back as Parker, so that’s all good.

VeraAnd then we come to Vera – on Sunday at 8pm – an ITV ratings warhorse, which I’m sure, in the words of some of the kids around here, is totally boss. I confess I’ve simply run out of things to say about Vera. Bear with me. I’m going to have to sit here for a few moments and wrack my brains.

No, nothing. Sorry.

Except to say that in this one DCI Stanhope investigates a suspicious fire that rips through a holiday park on the Northumberland coast. Three cabins are destroyed and the body of a woman is found inside.

TV & Movie Crime Log: Bloodlines, Gunman

So it’s been over a week now and Frank and Clare are kinda done. Nobody has dumbed any content on Netflix. I don’t care, fella, you say, I don’t have Netflix.

But, wait, look – here comes Bloodlines, the first 13-episodes of which are ready to stream on Friday. Bloodlines stars Kyle Chandler as the patriarch of a family of siblings who harbour dark secrets. Dark secrets – that’s what we want! We like Chandler a lot. We loved his terse presence as Coach, um, Thing on Friday Night Lights when he was married to that lady from Nashville, Mrs, er, Thing.

Bloodlines is bought to you by the people who made Damages, which we liked for a couple of seasons before Glenn Close’s icy machinations started to go on a loop.

Netflix is promising to premiere 13 series a year. Next up is Daredevil in April.

So Sean Penn has looked at what Liam Neeson is doing and thought, I’m going to have some of that. His people talked to Pierre ‘Taken’ Morel’s people and bob’s your uncle. In The Gunman, Penn’s expressive face is used to good effect as an operative named Jim Terrier. That’s a good start –- I’m hoping that all the characters are named after types of dog!

Terrier wants out of the game, he’s done with the constant grooming and vitamins, so he can settle down with his longtime love. The organization he works for has other plans in mind, and he’s forced to go on the run across Europe. He plays a fatal game of cat and mouse – and dog! – with a top class cast of British actors. Idris! Ray! Cromwell!

The film is adapted from the French novel The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette.

Look, it’s the London Eye — and some other places!