Acceptable Risk review: A show that plays its cards close to its chest

Acceptable Risk lays little on the line in this opening episode, but the plot could yet thicken

Angeline Ball, Lisa Hogg and  Elaine Cassidy in Acceptable Risk

Angeline Ball, Lisa Hogg and Elaine Cassidy in Acceptable Risk

 

To lose one husband in mysterious circumstances may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. “I’ve been here before, burying someone I love,” explains a shocked Sarah Manning (Elaine Cassidy), rendered glib by sudden grief, perhaps. “I know the ropes.”

So does RTÉ’s serviceable thriller, Acceptable Risk (RTÉ One, Sunday 9pm), whose title hints at the scale of its ambitions. Like a very cautious gamble, all risks taken here are kept sensibly low and evenly distributed. That doesn’t make for exciting viewing, but in these precarious times for life and television who wants to be unduly exposed?

When suave and secretive businessman Lee Manning is discovered with a bullet in his brain, his body dumped in what the police are politely hesitant to call Montreal’s Red Light District, it initiates a transatlantic investigation between Canadian police and the Garda Síochána within a programme co-produced by Canadian and Irish partners. In a further bid for affinity, director Kenny Glenaan represents Montreal and Dublin through interchangeable drone-eye views of their corporate architecture, all anonymous steel-and glass modernity. Neither city gives much away.

In another sign of the times, one of its major characters is not a person, but a corporation, described, a little needily, as “one of the biggest . . . most important and powerful” firms in Dublin. Gumbiner-Fischer is a transnational pharmaceutical company whose culture seems to be one of zealous surveillance and heavy-handed exposition.

Employees here drop their job titles early in conversation: “As head of security, I can personally guarantee that,” says Risteárd Cooper, playing its head of security. Sarah, a former legal something or other, is much missed at the company for her “depth of experience”, as Catherine Walker’s head of PR assesses her in awestruck tones, while its CEO, The Killing’s Morten Suurballe, insists he will do whatever it takes to get her back. Only John Grisham’s The Firm seems to have kept a more sinisterly tight grip on its staff.

If writer Ron Hutchinson seems a little anxious with these laboured introductions – Sarah’s sister, Nuala (Lisa Dwyer-Hogg), even answers the phone to her sibling with her own short job description – it makes the shroud of mystery around the deceased Lee (also a stiff for Gumbiner-Fisher) feel a little forced. In her gleaming white palatial home, Sarah admits to Det Sgt Emer Byrne (Angeline Ball) that her husband is pretty much a phantom: she doesn’t know his American family (“They weren’t close”), he was not permitted a laptop, she has no pictures, and into this void the show lobs spy movie cliches: a gun in his hotel safe, a tracking device on his car. “It’s like I married someone who wasn’t there,” Sarah says. But how fleshed out is she?

Characterisation, you suspect, will not be this show’s strong suit. Byrne finds Sarah disconcertingly opaque, a woman beginning a tragic hobby in widowhood, but all I can tell you about Angeline Ball’s sleuth is that she dreams of uneaten takeaways, can ID petty criminals from memory, and will comfortably crack wise with Cooper’s ex-cop when the pharma company wages its own intrusive investigation.

But Ball’s performance – easy, unforced, commendably underplayed – makes her seem most at home with the drama’s unhurried wariness, alive to its maze of deflective surfaces. We first see her gazing up into Sarah’s CCTV camera, glumly aware that this is a world of the watchers and the watched, and that this will be the motif of the show. Like her character, the programme has made its own workmanlike introduction, laying little on the line so far. The stakes may yet raise, the plot may yet thicken, the danger may yet materialise. Acceptable Risk is just about good enough.

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