tisdag 10 februari 2015

Can a cosy crime drama tick too many boxes?

One of the main channels in Sweden has a Saturday slot which appears to be reserved for English costume dramas and/or cosy crime dramas. This was the slot for Downton, and it's always worth keeping a lookout for what they'll show next. As it happens, it seldom suits me to watch the shows live, but that's what new modish TV boxes which can record programmes are for.

Needless to say, I'm impatiently waiting for Swedish TV to send Mr Selfridge on this slot, but no luck so far. Instead, at the moment, we have Grantchester.

Don't you just love ITV? They really try their darnedest to give the people what they want. Think of those glorious Morse spin-offs, which are even more enjoyable than Morse itself. Notice how they managed to bring Lewis back after what looked like a very final episode where Lewis retired and Hathaway talked about quitting the police force. Nonsense - of course Hathaway can't quit, and someone at ITV seems to have realised it. It's hard to decide what's more watchable, Lewis or young Morse, his role model Inspector Thursday and his hot, envious colleague Jakes in Endeavour. Hold on, I've mentioned the hotness of Jakes before once or twice, haven't I? But Morse is a dish too, and Thursday's extremely likeable - a copper who can be efficient without being grumpy.

You can see where I'm going with this, can't you? Yep, it's true: I'm not as convinced by Grantchester as I am by the shows previously mentioned. Yet it's stuffed with crowd-pleasing ingredients. Idyllic small town in the Fifties; a reasonably personable vicar solving crimes; a curmudgeonly inspector with whom he becomes touchingly matey; a comically strict housekeeper who has a heart of gold and says "What the Dickens?" a lot; a sweetly awkward curate ("he's homosexual" his then room-mate proudly proclaims, but how does she know? Has this shrinking violet actually ever made a pass at someone?); classic whodunnit plots. Yes, it's nice and relaxing, but after the first two episodes it still feels like a poor man's Agatha Christie. Maybe the show just tries a little bit too hard to be likeable. If it weren't sourced from actual crime novels, I'd have thought that a group of bright sparks at ITV had tried to come up with a show which contains all the things a certain market segment (mine) likes.

It's worth noting, by the way, that the Bad Toffs are back. Sidney's (that's the vicar's) upper-crust love interest is about to marry an equally upper-crust geezer who's just about tolerable, but not the brightest or the most open-minded of men. When a theft takes place, he immediately presumes that Sidney's sister's jazz-singer boyfriend (another box ticked) did it - because, duh, he's black. The upper-crust love interest - a bit of a minx in my view, of the have-my-cake-and-eat-it-and-be-sort-of-tragic-at-the-same-time kind - sighs to Sidney: "His father and mine are friends... What I wanted was rather low on the list of priorities." Don't you try that, my girl. Fathers had a hard time marrying off their daughters against their will in the 1850s, never mind the 1950s. Anyway, the love interest's father is, of course, a stuffed shirt. Of her fiancé I have already spoken. The minx's, and Sidney's sister's (she was a scholarship girl) school friends are pretty horrible. The husband of one of them is running for Parliament - which is code for "upper-class twit with potentially damaging secrets". Look, I enjoy kicking the aristos as much as the next bourgeois girl, but the crime-drama clichés surrounding the upper echelons of English society are getting to be a little tiresome.  

In the midst of all this cosiness, Sidney sometimes mopes about the war or the minx and drinks too much. But it doesn't make this series any less of a harmless but forgettable trifle of a show. Still, I'd rather have sweet trifles like this than worthy and dull Parade's End-style dramas. But when, oh when will they be sending Mr Selfridge?