Television: Paired with the copycat cop in ‘Chasing Shadows’, you’d go straight to HR

UTV’s new crime series borrows from the Scandi noir ‘The Bridge’, but Reece Shearsmith’s detective is too odd to be believable. At least we can relish ‘Jamie’s Comfort Food’

Good cop, odd cop: Noel Clarke, Reece Shearsmith and Alex Kingston in ‘Chasing Shadows’

Good cop, odd cop: Noel Clarke, Reece Shearsmith and Alex Kingston in ‘Chasing Shadows’

 

The grey mood and slow burn of Scandi crime dramas has seeped into British police procedurals with some fine results – ITV’s Broadchurch is the most obvious example – but not until Chasing Shadows (UTV, Thursday), a four-part series, has anyone tried to copy one of its standout characters: Saga Norén.

If you haven’t seen the Danish-Swedish series The Bridge – why not? What’s keeping you? – we spent most of the first series wondering why the detective is so direct, socially difficult and relentlessly logical. It became a little clearer towards the end that she has Asperger’s syndrome. And so enter Sean Stone, the detective played by Reece Shearsmith in Chasing Shadows, who has all of Norén’s characteristics. But just so we get the point that he’s “different”, and disregarding all Scandi subtlety, he also has a buttock-clenching walk and a creepy, stare-eyed way of going on – he looks more like a serial killer than the ones he’s hoping to catch – and he keeps his coat on all the time.

“Have you a husband?” are his first words to his new colleague, Ruth (Alex Kingston); his cleaner had advised him to make conversation to fit in. Later, having ignored Ruth all day, Sean tells her that he doesn’t find her attractive. In real life she’d be down in HR, filing a complaint. Instead she’s a joshing sidekick, rolling her eyes and sighing at his strange little ways. Their task is to solve a mystery of missing teenagers in an anonymous British city. Stone believes they have been killed.

Television crime dramas, no matter how well done, are always pushing against the boundaries of credibility – multiple murders in small university towns, women walking alone at night in deserted car parks when a killer’s about – but having such an unbelievable lead character kills Chasing Shadows stone dead.

Apologies to anyone who followed my Ones to Watch recommendation of Crimes of Passion (BBC Four, Saturday). I fell into the trap of assuming that any new six-part Swedish crime drama had to be watchable. This isn’t. Even Miss Marple would find all its plot exposition too corny. Overheard conversations include “I hate you. I wish you were dead”, “Mind that slippery step, it’ll kill someone,” and “We’re the only people on the island – one of us must be the killer.” It’s dreadfully old-fashioned but without Marple’s charm or, even, a hint of its slack-elastic tension.

Crimes of Passion, predictably, looks stylish, although not as styled as Jamie’s Comfort Food (Channel 4, Monday). The theme is up there with “pampering” as contrived concepts go. He cooks burgers on an open fire in the garden, makes a “classic” mac’n’cheese but with lobster – he’s a bit squeamish about killing it – and serves a pavlova to his wife and mother-in-law as they sit on a beautiful bench in his garden, in dappled sunlight, while Buddy, his photogenic blond son, scampers about. For quirkiness a red telephone box and a dinky old caravan stand in the background. A lot’s going on in that garden.

Oliver has a sidekick for this series, a surfer-type dude called Christian. “You’re next-level, bro,” he says, which may be a slight exaggeration, as all Oliver does is slather a burger in mustard. There’s a lot of calling each other “bro”. Oliver doesn’t say “drizzle” any more; now it’s a “schwig” of Worcester sauce or a “tinkle” of bourbon.

Jamie’s Comfort Food is going to be hugely popular, there’ll probably be a bestselling book, and you might even cook something from it. That’s a lot more than you can say about most cookery shows.

The Homeless Shelter (Wednesday) is one of the new home-made programmes in TV3’s autumn schedule. The two-part observational documentary looks at life in hostels for homeless men in Waterford and Cork run by the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

There isn’t much depth in many of the interviews with the men, but common themes soon emerge. These are stories of substance abuse, mental illness, criminality and family dysfunction. After a while the stories and the men blend into each other to create an overall impression of a problem that’s deep and intractable despite the intentions and work of those who run the hostels.

Equally interesting is hearing from the staff and seeing them at work: managers, cleaners, the chef. Front-line workers are often overlooked in films about such 24/7 residential services, and learning even more about their experiences at work would be enlightening.

Gerry Gregg’s award-winning documentary Close to Evil (RTÉ One, Monday) has had a cinema screening, so it doesn’t strictly belong in this TV review, but it is the most striking and memorable documentary of the week.

The beautifully constructed film follows Tomi Reichental, a Holocaust survivor who has lived in Dublin since the 1950s, in his quest to meet Hilde Michnia, an SS guard at Bergen-Belsen, the concentration camp where he was imprisoned as a boy and where members of his family died. He wants to see if, after all this time, she will show remorse. If so, he intends to shake her hand. He isn’t going to forgive her, though, as he tells his two surviving siblings, who live in Israel.

Michnia is 92 and lives in Hamburg. Footage of an interview of her when she was in her 80s shows a soft-faced, benign-looking old woman, still denying her role in the Holocaust. Part of Reichental’s mission is to prove her culpability – and it’s a savage exposition of abject savagery – which he does many times over from historical records.

Close to Evil brings the story home in several ways. It is most striking when Reichental meets John Stout, in Cork, and Albert Sutton, in Dublin, two nonagenarian Irish veterans of the second World War who were involved in Bergen-Belsen’s liberation. Their eyewitness reports are powerful links with the events described in the harrowing archive footage.

It’s not often you can say of a Holocaust documentary that to reveal the ending would be a spoiler. If you missed it, it’s worth catching on the RTÉ Player. tvreview@irishtimes.com

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