Why is it that we love crime so much? Obviously when one is the victim of such offences (give me five minutes and a rounders bat with the bastard who stole my bike…) it’s a little different, but crime fiction persistently tops the books, films and TV charts. It’s probably the most popular category of television, all that reality piffle notwithstanding (it’s for cretins anyway).
I do question the term ‘reality TV’ when I see some of the people on the likes Big Brother or I’m a Celebrity who are grossly unrepresentative of reality due to their severely warped minds and the fact that they say ‘me’ after every sentence which references the personal pronoun. I get annoyed about that, me. Anyway, I do digress.
In order that I might have some explanation to give for the popularity of crime drama here, I have gathered some opinions through the medium of Facebook - apparently it’s because “[of] the mystery, and because, as children, we all loved Scooby Doo”.
Another contributor, who described himself only as “a youth from Merseyside”, was more interested in “tips on how to commit crimes” and a first year computing student who commented: “everyone wants to think of a way of committing the perfect murder, just in case they need it one day…” How lovely.
Author P.D. James is of the opinion that the connection between social classes that a good detective story forms, along with a thrilling perspective of the world which most of us never encounter unless we become entangled with the law, is what makes crime drama so appealing to such a wide range of people.
Also, speaking on Radio 4’s Today Programme, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, criticised the level of violence in novels and on screens, along with something he dubbed the ‘CSI effect’ - the Jury’s mal-informed forensic analysis (and probably the belief that the tests are generally conducted by incredibly fit women).
Lynda La Plante, a renowned scriptwriter, who joined Blair and James in their discussion, said that she felt as though there should be less violence in crime drama, but that she would carry on writing about what she read in the papers. In the last series written by her and shown on ITV, a top-ten world’s-most-wanted criminal escaped custody using a small leisure aircraft and a course of plastic surgery. When has this ever happened?
The BBCs new series Silk is a rather different take on crime drama. It’s more like a courtroom soap opera. Following two barristers, Martha and Clive (Maxine Peake and Rupert Penry-Jones), on their quest for ‘silk’ - the inside term for becoming a Queen’s Counsel. It is unusual in that the clearly guilty characters get off scot-free, leaving one with the faintest dislike for the legal profession.
Going back to the very first episode is actually rather scary, because they have phones with black and white screens and they still send texts to trigger explosions of various kinds. There is also the heavily recurring incidence of large LCD countdown timers attached to explosive devices, all of which are of course disarmed with seconds to spare (except in the demise of Connie James, slight curveball there).
As this article is supposed to have a theme of ‘best in class’ I feel obligated to give Spooks a mention. It has now been ten years since the first series was aired, and as the proud owner of every box set, I must say that it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. The only character to survive the entire span of ten series is Harry Peirce (the amazingly authoritative Peter Firth), most of the other characters only last a couple of series - I think that’s what keeps it so fresh legit. That being said, the last series, which finished just before Christmas, was rather disappointing (they turned one of the main characters into a traitor which was horrible!) and there have been rumours of BBC budget cuts bringing the show to an end. Maybe it’s better to go out on a high?
Overlooking the slight (and major) incongruences with the realm of the real, Spooks is actually just plain brilliance, but don’t watch too many at once or you’ll run out of fingernails. Start at series four if you want to see it at its best.
Topping the detective-dramas for 2010 is Luther, the HUGE DCI with the temper to match his physical size. Luther plays the rather typical part of you-know-I’m-right-but-the-rest-of-the-cast-can’t-see (known as dramatic irony to the eloquent), which can be slightly frustrating, but at least it keeps the suspense going. There are some truly bilious, graphic murders in this series - including a man who has a cannibalistic fetish but leaves no evidence, so Luther promptly fabricates some, what a lad!
One can’t discuss crime drama without giving a mention to the very queen of the genre herself - the formidable Agatha Christie. There’s nothing like a good Poirot or Marple to round off a good Sunday evening. Sir Ian Blair is an advocate for the ‘toning down’ of the violence in more modern crime series to the likes of Christie’s twee country murders, or if you watched ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ at Christmas - just absolute arsewash (of course, that was probably ITV’s fault).
If you read my usual column you’ll know I have mixed feelings about The Hustle. It’s one of those amazing success stories of plot resurrection that seems to work. The team has a brilliant dynamism and although the stories are quite unbelievable, you feel compelled to believe every word - a factor that gives it a certain edge.
A show I’ve been hoping would return is the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role. Three episodes were broadcast in May 2010 and there have been rumours of a new series coming soon… exciting!
Writing about the ‘Best in Class’ in Crime Drama to fit in this rather modest space has been quite difficult considering the size of the genre. I wrote of some amazing shows and of some amazing shows, I did not. It’s now 2:30AM and I’m just about to go into the kitchen to make my last brew of the day (that’s a cup of tea, southerners). I’ll send this before I go just in case there are any murderers around…