Arriving with minimal fanfare in 2015, Unforgotten turned out to be ITV’s best crime drama since Broadchurch. But would its second series succumb to the same law of diminishing returns that saw David Tennant and Olivia Colman – metaphorically speaking – fall off a cliff?
Thankfully not. Or at least not on the basis of this opening instalment, in which writer Chris Lang once again set a number of story plates spinning – including a gay couple in the process of adopting a little girl, a teacher looking for promotion and two sisters squabbling over how to care for their elderly mother – and left it to us to work out how they might all, at some point, interconnect.
It opened with a suitcase being dredged from a river, which seasoned detective watchers won’t be surprised to learn contained human remains. But unlike the lurid Silent Witness, which fetishises corpses to a frankly unhealthy degree, Unforgotten treats its victims with dignity and respect – a philosophy personified by Nicola Walker’s DCI Cassie Stuart, who sets about getting justice for the dead with a quiet, unshowy determination.
Walker is extraordinary – her pale blue eyes, burning with compassion, are practically a character in themselves – and she’s ably assisted by Sanjeev Bhaskar as her amiable DI, “Sunny” Khan. Refreshingly, neither of them appears to battling an addiction, harbouring a dark secret or wrestling with demons from their past. In fact the only real mystery is what Sunny keeps in that rucksack he lugs about everywhere.
Our heroes caught an early break when a name was found engraved on the victim’s watch. The bad news was the name was Smith – Lang refusing to serve up easy answers, and instead forcing his characters to do proper, procedural police work: manning phones, making door to door enquiries, even buying old technology off eBay to help them piece together their decades-old puzzle. It’s part Morse, part Time Team.
In a genre prone to operatic melodrama – yes, Luther, Marcella, I’m looking at you – Unforgotten’s restrained, emotionally intelligent approach to the murder business remains a breath of fresh air. Plus its lovely, wispy theme song is the best on telly.
The Great Indoors
This new US culture-clash comedy – about a rugged adventure reporter (Community’s Joel McHale) forced to babysit a bunch of millennial snowflakes in the digital department of an outdoor pursuits magazine – has all the right, zeitgeisty targets in its sights, from inane Buzzfeed-style listicles (‘You can’t just post animal videos and call it journalism!’) to made-up job titles like ‘social influencer’. It’s a pity, then, that jokes don’t quite land as sharply as they could, while Stephen Fry is largely wasted as the magazine’s slightly befuddled founder.
The Worst Witch
The story of Mildred Hubble – a struggling student at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches – might sound like just another Harry Potter rip-off. Except, of course, Jill Murphy began publishing her much-loved books a good 20 years before JK Rowling dreamed up Hogwarts.
It’s been filmed several times before (once with a very young Felicity Jones) but this new version has all the ingredients – wicked teachers, a snooty nemesis, a loyal best friend, plenty of cats and not a boy in sight – to cast its spell on a new generation.
Published in Waitrose Weekend, January 12, 2017
(c) Waitrose Weekend