Thursday, 02 August 2012

Television Review: 3 August

Michael Moran is desperate for a new detective series, sadly the Beeb has failed to deliver

Written by Micahel Moran
Michael-Moran1It's hard going for television previewers this week. We are in the middle of the Olympic TV heatwave and there is an entertainment hosepipe ban prohibiting the broadcast of any non-sport content.

BBC Two bucks the trend somewhat half-heartedly with a second series of Vexed (Wednesday at 9pm). It's one of those chalk-and-cheese detective shows that's more likely to be parodied in a Hollywood comedy about self-regarding actors than actually made.

Still, here it is. Let me be candid, I didn't like it. I like Toby Stephens as an actor, he's a remarkably accomplished performer on stage and in films as well as TV. Miranda Raison, too, is a fine exponent of her craft. She was great in Spooks and it doesn't hurt that she's rather lovely to gaze upon.

Series creator Howard Overman's previous credits include Channel 4's 'hoodie superhero' comedy drama Misfits, one of my favourite shows of recent years. But Vexed squanders all of that potential on a clunky mystery wrapped in some rathertoo- obvious comedy.

Vexed wants some of that Life On Mars 'unreconstructed 1970s detective' fun. It wants some of that Moonlighting 'will they or won't they?' fun. And in this second episode of the series it wants some of that 'lefty intellectuals and their silly hats' fun. Stephens is DI Jack Armstrong, a boorishly opinionated copper of the old school. Raison is Georgina 'George' Dixon, his gentler, more sensitive new partner. I don't know if the names Jack and George are supposed to make me think of The Sweeney, but the improbably old-fashioned characterisation of (especially) Stephens certainly does. Here, he seems to be laying on the parody a bit too thickly to sustain this character for anything longer than a sketch.

Raison plays her part a little more subtly, but isn't really given quite enough to work with to be entirely believable. A comedy drama needs a functioning drama at its core. Vexed is missing that aspect rather badly.

In this episode the mysterious death of a promiscuous gender studies student leads the mismatched detectives into a cartoonishly caricatured world of fancifully named dissertations, didactic academics and sexual nonconformity. Of course, the detectives have their own tangled love lives to negotiate, as well – George with a suspiciously perfect Professor Brian Cox lookalike and Jack with a mysterious and mostly invisible virago.

You'll sit through worse shows in your life. If you're extremely sport-phobic, it's worth a shot, I suppose. It's just that, for me, both the comedy and the mystery are a bit too predictable to work. It's a shame, because all of the principals are so able, but even in such a thin week for non-sporting telly, this isn't a medal contender.

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