CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews the weekend on TV: Two hours of drudgery, but DS Pirie is no closer to closing the case

Karen Pirie

Valuation: blank

bloodlands

Valuation: blank

The VHS player is to blame. Before the home video boom of the 1980s, murder mysteries never stretched more than two hours.

It wasn’t until the launch of Inspector Morse in 1987 that film-length episodes became the norm – when ITV bosses correctly surmised that two hours wasn’t too long, with many viewers recording shows to watch later.

The experiment turned out to be too successful. Today, the majority of the network’s crime series consists of 120-minute slogs, including commercials. And most don’t deserve it.

A number of recent works, like Professor T with Ben Miller or Roger Allam’s Murder In Provence, are just fluffy. The characters are too light and the plots too thin for us to endure for the length of a soccer game plus overtime.

Others, like Ridley earlier this month, are calling for ruthless pruning. I would cut out all of Adrian Dunbar’s nightclub singing for starters.

For completely different reasons, Karen Pirie (ITV) – a three-part series based on a cold case investigation – does not lend itself well to the overly long format. It’s a powerful story with an instantly likeable main character, the inexperienced but capable Detective Sergeant, played by Lauren Lyle.

Lauren Lyle as DS Karen Pirie. Also, Karen Pirie (ITV) - a three-part series based on a cold case investigation - doesn't lend itself well to an extra-long format

Lauren Lyle as DS Karen Pirie. Also, Karen Pirie (ITV) - a three-part series based on a cold case investigation - doesn't lend itself well to an extra-long format

Lauren Lyle as DS Karen Pirie. Also, Karen Pirie (ITV) – a three-part series based on a cold case investigation – doesn’t lend itself well to an extra-long format

Based on a novel by the queen of Scottish noir, Val McDermid, the screenplay is riddled with dialogue that elicits strong reactions from us. When a drunk thug yells into the night sky, “I just want to hurt someone,” we have no doubt that he will do just that – making the violence that ensues all the more visible.

And it’s immediately clear how deep the cynicism runs at the top of the squad when DS Pirie is chosen to resume the high-profile murder hunt. One sexist senior officer notes, “I think it would help the optics if it was a female officer . . . ‘

The adaptation, by Emer Kenny, who also stars as Pirie’s best friend River, uses flashbacks adeptly. The narrative alternates between the murder of a barmaid in 1996 and the suspect’s life 25 years later.

This double-barreled storytelling hasn’t been done this well since Unforgotten starring Nicola Walker. But part of the reason Unforgotten was so good is that it followed a single investigation — in hour-long episodes.

Karen Pirie is also a single story, but cramming her into a trio of two-hour segments is tiresome. We don’t get the satisfaction of solving a complex mystery. Instead, we spend an entire Sunday evening building to a cliffhanger ending.

The solution is simple I think. Karen Pirie is excellent, this year’s best new police series. To really enjoy it, all we have to do is record each part and watch it for two nights, just like we did with Morse.

James Nesbitt (left) who plays Tom Brannick and Charlene McKenna (right) who plays Niamh McGovern in Bloodlands

James Nesbitt (left) who plays Tom Brannick and Charlene McKenna (right) who plays Niamh McGovern in Bloodlands

James Nesbitt (left) who plays Tom Brannick and Charlene McKenna (right) who plays Niamh McGovern in Bloodlands

However, Bloodlands (BBC1) knows how to portion their cake. James Nesbitt’s insane tale of a Belfast police killer is spread across six gripping hour-long chapters, each digestible enough to keep us entertained. Wherever DCI Tom Brannick goes, there’s a crowd of armed cops awaiting his orders. This time half were in black battle suits like ninja warriors and the rest in hairy camouflage suits, crawling through the Northern Ireland landscape like green yetis.

Nesbitt enjoys himself and turns on a cold-eyed gaze that takes on a psycho-glare as his eyes roll in their sockets.

A pompous macho and confident alpha male, he’s great at looking worried but bluffing it every time he realizes he may have given himself away. Bloodlands sucks, but it’s addicting.

Source: | Dailymail.co.uk


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Brian Ashcraft

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