Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Blue Murder, ITV1

Here's a quick review I wrote last night for Orange. From a screenwriting point-of-view, I don't have much to add; the main story might have had a little bit too much plot, although the final result fitted nicely and had an emotional impact.

However, I didn't find it plausible that the husband wouldn't ring the police when he found his wife's battered body in the garage, in case it looked a bit suspicious. The domestic subplot involving the son also didn't add much and seemed a bit tacked on (although I think the balance between Janine's work and home life is a key element of the series).

Blue Murder, starring Caroline Quentin as empathetic copper DCI Janine Lewis, the head of a murder investigation team on the mean streets of Manchester, is now back for its fifth series. I'd never watched it before, but it's obviously doing something right.

The first episode explodes onto the screen from the cut-throat world of competitive cheerleading. When team coach Helen Gaskell (Carolyn Backhouse) gets her head clubbed in with a clawhammer the morning after her team fail to qualify for the national championships, suspicion immediately falls on her niece Jess (Holliday Grainger), who was dropped from the team in favour of Helen's daughter Melanie.

However, it doesn't take long for Alan, Helen's husband, to become the prime suspect. In fact, our suspicions are raised the minute we see he's being played by notorious Weatherfield wrong 'un Peter Barlow (Chris Gascoyne). Things go from bad to worse for Alan when the detectives find some of his blood-smeared clothing on a nearby building site and discover that he knew his wife was having an affair.

But there's more to Blue Murder than blood-spattered garage floors and suburban infidelity. DCI Lewis is, of course, a Working-Mother-Who-Has-to-Juggle-it-All – especially since her ex-hubby jumped on an EasyJet to Spain at the end of the previous series. So, we have a tacked-on subplot involving planning a birthday party for her son, who has fallen out with his best mate at school and benefits from a man-to-man chat with Janine's trusty deputy DI Richard Mayne (Ian Kelsey, pictured above).

Some Tory fella the other week got a bit of attention by saying bits of the UK were like The Wire, comparing Manchester to Baltimore. Blue Murder doesn't quite live up to that billing. It doesn't try to be as grim, gritty or edgy, but it maintains a serious atmosphere, anchored by the presence of Caroline Quentin and tempered by the trademark cheeky banter of the rest of her team.

It's a well-plotted and convincing murder mystery that provides enough false trails and possible suspects to keep the audience guessing, but then pulls a last-minute swerve (rather than a twist) to deliver an emotionally satisfying ending. Despite the unnecessary diversions into Janine's domestic situation, Blue Murder is solid TV cop fare; it's easy to see why it's got to a fifth series.

Picture: ITV

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