Sunday, 19 April 2009

Ashes to Ashes, BBC One

While I wouldn't lump myself in with the haters, I was generally disappointed by the first series of Ashes to Ashes. I thought it traded too much on the Gene Hunt Factor, making him more of a caricature than he'd been on Life on Mars, and was too quick with the easy "weren't the 80s crap?" gags.

Like a lot of people, I also thought the fact Alex Drake knew she was in a coma removed a lot of the dramatic tension created by Sam Tyler's confusion over what had happened to him, while the loss of Annie took a lot of warmth out of the show as well.

So, having seen a preview disc, I'm delighted that the second series gets off to a cracking start, written by Ashley Pharoah.

The story is set around the pre-clean-up (but strangely deserted) streets of Soho. When a man is found dead in women's lingerie in a strip club, Drake initially identifies it as a case of autoerotic asphyxiation gone wrong.

However, when it turns out that the dead man was a local copper, and the pathologist finds signs of foul play, the investigation takes a deeper turn.

The script introduces a major new character - Gene and Alex's boss - and puts the issue of policing in a rapidly changing society back at the centre of the show. As corruption rears its head in "a black and white world", an intriguing cliffhanger leaves us wondering which side our characters will choose.

For me, this was something that got lost between LoM and the first series of Ashes; despite the stuff with Lord Scarman, it seemed to lose a lot of the focus on good and bad policing that powered Sam and Gene's relationship. As a result, Ray and Chris just became comedy sidekicks, rather than representing elements of the debate.

Anyway, there's also plenty of intriguing stuff about Alex's predicament in the new episode. We have the usual information bleeding through from 2009, and meet a very sinister new character who seems to know something about why Alex is there. The character's played by a big name, so I'm sure they're going to play a major part in the series.

I hope I'm not getting carried away on the strength of one strong episode (and there are a couple of rubbish bits in this one), but this really gives the impression that they've found the real purpose of the series, other than just a way to get Gene Hunt back on the telly.

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