Monday, 10 January 2011

Robin Jarossi's Criminal Acts for JANUARY 2011

ITV1, Tuesday, 11 January, 9pm

STV’s Taggart is pushing 30, making it easily the longest-running crime series on British television.

Which is no great mystery. While it has never been ground-breaking or captured the imagination in the way Prime Suspect or Cracker did, it does do the basics well – gritty stories and good characters.

And just as Britain has changed beyond recognition since 1983, so has Taggart. The original star, former boxer Mark McManus, died in 1994, of course, and is still fondly remembered.

His successor, Mike Jardine (actor James MacPherson), moved on in 2002, when Taggart became the ensemble piece it is today.

Irascible DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton), DS Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff) and DI Robbie Ross (John Michie) all return for this new series. They are joined by a new recruit, pathologist Duncan Clark (Davood Ghadmi), while Siobhan Redmond is on hand as Chief Supt Karen Campbell to give Burke a hard time.

In the opener, Bad Medicine, a tortured body is found in an abandoned warehouse. It turns out the victim, Scott Clarkson, was finished off with a nail gun. The team discover that he was a newly qualified doctor who had manufactured and sold Ecstasy to pay his way through university.

Adding a great twist of antagonism to this story is the arrival from London of two cocksure detectives who also have a nail-gun victim – DI Casey (Reece Dinsdale), an old mate of Burke’s, and DS Morretti (Steve John Shepherd).

Cross-border harmony is nowhere in sight as the two teams lock horns with snide comments, mistrust and back-stabbing. It’s a hard-hitting start to the new series, which the producers have been keen to freshen up.

STV’s head of drama, Margaret Enefer, explains: ‘Taggart remains a classic whodunit but, additionally, all three lead characters now have their own stories. The first episodes concentrate on Burke’s dilemma regarding where his career is going and whether he should move on or retire. The middle two feature Jackie taking stock, and the last two focus on Robbie’s life and problems. We felt that although you still don’t go home with the characters, if more was known about them as human beings then it would help relate the stories better.’

Producer Marcus Wilson adds, ‘You’ll see the Taggart you recognise but it’s grittier, bolder, fast-paced and a bit bloodier. It’s a treat stuffed with crime stories and fascinating characters. These six episodes will run as a series and this is the first time Taggart has been shot in HD with a more vibrant camera style, including a lot of Steadicam work. So it’s a much more modern style of shooting.’

ITV1, Thursday, 13 January, 9pm

Trevor Eve stars in and is the executive producer of this pretty decent hostage thriller. He plays Dominic King, a private kidnap and ransom negotiator called in to retrieve businesswoman Naomi Shaffer (Emma Fielding), who’s been snatched while working in South Africa.

King thinks he’s up against an amateur bunch of chancers and beats down the ransom. As we see him meeting Naomi’s wife and daughter, and her employer in the UK, however, we begin to suspect he may be wrong about that.

Filmed in Africa and the UK, this is a tense, polished three-part drama, but what really sets it apart is that the characters are well developed, so that we feel we know them. Credit for this must go to acclaimed scriptwriter Patrick Harbinson, who has written for 24, Law and Order and ER.

We also get a good look into King’s personal demons, the fact that he seems to be losing his touch and recently lost his first hostage, whose body is handed over to him in a tense opening sequence. King’s boss, Angela Beddoes (Helen Baxendale), is soon on his case.

King’s wife, Sophia (Natasha Little), wants him to step back from field work and support her political career, and King also seems to be out of touch with his teenage daughter.

The opening episode ends explosively when King goes out to Cape Town to hand over the ransom for Naomi. In part two John Hannah appears as a far bigger problem for King deal with.

If you’re not a fan of Trevor Eve and his other hit crime series,
Waking the Dead, Kidnap & Ransom is still worth a look. Eve fits into a good cast here, and the story is genuinely fraught and absorbing.

BBC1, Sunday, 16 January, 9pm

The last of the initial three – and very successful – adaptations of Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen mysteries is already with us.

Made by Left Bank Pictures for the Beeb, the same folk who produced Kenneth Branagh’s Wallander, Zen has had more pizzazz and attitude than virtually any series since the late 60s, when shows like
The Avengers sent us all a-tingle.

Beautifully filmed and with terrific music by Adrian Johnston, Zen has been a joy to watch. But there has been substance with the style.

Rufus Sewell has stayed unflustered and cool despite exceedingly tricky cases thrown at him and the close proximity of the jaw-dropping beauty of Caterina Murino.

The stories have intrigued as Zen probed corruption and crime in the land of backhanders and nepotism – and that’s just at the Questura.

Ratking, drawn from the story that was Dibdin’s first Zen novel, a powerful industrialist called Ruggerio Miletti is kidnapped. This being Italy, Miletti’s family would rather deal with the criminals directly themselves than let the police see that justice is done.

When Miletti’s lawyer is murdered while making an illegal ransom payment, Zen finds out that the kidnappers are only part of the problem.

Zen’s opening episode,
Vendetta, got 5.1m viewers, beating Marple’s 4.3m.

Which is no surprise. Zen is a Ferrari against Marple’s Fiat Panda.

Taggart and Kidnap & Ransom (Photos © ITV).

Robin Jarossi is a TV journalist and the editor of

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