Public Service Announcement 35 of 2017: Murder in the First, Rellik, Liar

Murder in the First returns to British screens this week for its third and, as it turns out, final season. I thought the first season to be an underrated gem; the second, unfortunately, less so. But I’m on board again for this. Steven Bochco is still at the wheel, an excellent cast is once again led by Kathleen Robertson and Taye Diggs, and the formula is the same: a Murder One-esque focus on a single case through the whole (10 episode) season, this time the nightclub shooting of a professional American footballer (Tuesday 12 September, 9pm, FOX UK).

Rather weirdly, the terrestrial channels have scheduled two six-part crime-based dramas written by brothers Harry and Jack Wiliams (The Missing, One of Us) against each other. So in the BBC One corner there’s Rellik, in which Richard Dormer plays a detective on the trail of a serial killer. The show’s USP is that the story is told in reverse; hence, I’m guessing, the title. Bothering be won’t I. And in the ITV corner there’s six-parter Liar, in which Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt accuses Ioan Gruffudd of date rape (both Monday 11 September at 9pm).

Some other bits and pieces: Cold Feet is back (Thursdays, 9pm, ITV); the TV adaptation of JK Rowling’s Strike, after a ratings triumph for its first season, goes straight into season 2 (tonight, BBC One, 9pm); there’s a show about dancing (Saturdays, BBC One); Amazon Prime has season 3 of Outlander from tomorrow; and season 4 of BoJack Horseman has dropped on Netflix.

Finally, the first episode of the new season of American Horror Story is set, almost fittingly, on the night of Donald Trump’s election; almost fittingly because it’s been a horror story for more than just America (Fridays, 10pm, FOX UK).

Murder in the First s2 ep 12

I’m a bit disappointed, there’s no denying it. As I said in my review of the first episode, I thought season 2 of Murder in the First was going to be about the massacre on the bus. But that was shuffled off to one side, in favour of… what? Cop-shooting-cop; the death of another undercover cop; The Union; Hildy’s brother; Molk and the stripper; Raffi and Terry; Suger (sic) and the gang wars; Bruja Blanca… Plots were picked up and put down again without really going anywhere – Koto, Navarro, and Siletti, among others, all suffered from this.

It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the midseason defenestration of co-creator and exec producer Eric Lodal had something to do with this; I have no idea about the rights and wrongs of that, I should say, but the show never really felt as if it knew where it was going. I suspect it was all supposed to cohere into one Grand Narrative, but instead it was a bit of a mess, and I’m not ashamed to admit that around halfway through the season I didn’t really know what was going on. Perhaps it’s my failure, although I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only viewer to have the same problem.

Anyway, it all led to the exposition-heavy but ultimately pointless (“HYPOTHETICALLY!”) conclusion of this episode, in which, having taken care of Dustin Maker, the surviving mass killer from the first episode, the writers suddenly seemed to realise that they only had a few minutes to try and make sense of the plot. Even James Cromwell’s 11th-hour reappearance as Warren Daniels, dazzling though it was, served as a reminder of just how good the underrated first season was. No word, as yet, on whether there’s going to be a third.

Murder in the First s2 ep 1

1983685035The second season of Murder in the First opens with a breathtaking but harrowing scene: Terry and Hildy happen to be in the vicinity when two youths on a school bus pull out guns and open fire on their classmates. I can’t imagine that it comes close to reproducing what it would actually be like, but in fairness the writer (Eric Lodal) and director (Jesse Bochco) do a pretty good job of simulating terror and hellish confusion: kids pleading for their lives, desperately trying to get off the bus, that sort of thing, while the shooters, Dustin Maker and Alfie Rentman, detonate smoke bombs to facilitate their escape.

SFPD attends in force and Maker is captured, but Rentman manages to get away, suggesting that the perimeter was nowhere near hard enough. The show saves its hardest punch for the end of the sequence: the bodies of the dead kids are concealed by sheets outside the bus, and as mobile phone networks are unjammed, and calls to the deceased start to get through, their phones light up under the sheets.

If the first season is a guide this won’t just be a manhunt: we’ll see the case through to trial, at which point Alfie Rentman’s psychiatrist father, who seems to have been treating Alfie with drugs for sociopathy, will presumably be pivotal. He’s already given Kathleen Robertson the opportunity for her best line reading of the episode: during an interview, he allows that his son is dangerous. “Dr Rentman”, Hildy replies, deadpan. “No shit”.

There’s another storyline, as yet deliberately underplayed, and apparently unconnected: the disappearance of undercover cop Sarah Tran. Sarah was on the prostitution beat, so in the grand tradition of procedurals I’m guessing that means someone else is going to have to go undercover (i.e. dressed like a hooker) to solve the mystery. In season 1 that would have been an open goal for Hildy, but this time around there’s competition, as Lorelei Martins from The Mentalist has appeared as part of the team, joining the returning Walter Mashburn on MitF’s roster of Mentalist alums. Adam Noshimuri from H50 is back as well, although it looks as if his DA lover has been written out.

So we’re set up nicely for season 2. The unknown variable this time around is the departure of co-creator/showrunner Eric Lodal halfway through filming, in circumstances which don’t appear to have been wholly amicable, leaving Steven Bochco in sole command. Given how long it is since Bochco had a hit show on his own, that might or might not be a good thing. In any event, I’m not planning weekly reviews, but I’ll definitely keep watching.

Public Service Announcement 27 of 2015: Hannibal, Orange Is The New Black, Murder In The First

You can’t watch everything these days, of course, so we all have a list of shows we’d like to watch but haven’t quite got round to. Hannibal is in the top 3 of my must-see list – I promised to myself that I would catch up after season 2 and before the third season started, but here we are; it’s kicking off tonight, and I haven’t managed it. Which is a shame, because I know, I just know, that I would like it. I will get to it, though; perhaps in time for the fourth season, if there is one (tonight, 10pm, Sky Living).

I am, though, entirely across Netflix’s sensationally good Orange Is The New Black, which returns this week for its third season, and has already established itself as one of the best things on… TV? (If that’s what you call it these days.) Joyously female-centric, with standout performances everywhere you look, and whether you regard it as drama or comedy it’s capable of delivering on both fronts, often simultaneously. I’m planning to review this season, but haven’t yet decided how: perhaps I’ll drip-feed the reviews during July, when it’s a bit quieter (Friday 12 June, Netflix).

And there’s more good news, with the return of Steven Bochco’s Murder In The First for its second run. I thought the first season was excellent in an old-fashioned sort of way: a good story, an even pace, two attractive leads, and a terrific supporting cast. (CJ, it should be said, was less than convinced.) There was even a half-hearted ship, although the problem there was that the characters had fantastic workplace chemistry and very little of the romantic kind. Anyway, it’s back, and this time we’re getting it a matter of days, rather than months, after American transmission, which is also good. I’m probably not going to do week-by-week reviews this time round, although I’ll have something to say about the first episode, just to make sure it’s still ticking over nicely (Friday 12 June, 10pm, FOX UK).

Also starting: British drama The Interceptor, which not even the Radio Times can be bothered to pretend is worth watching (tonight, 9pm, BBC One); some more inheritance fun and games in the second season of Denmark’s The Legacy (Friday 12 June, 9pm, Sky Arts 1); and Scandi-gloom with added missing children in Sweden’s Jordskott (tonight, 10pm, ITV Encore). And a one-off which is worth mentioning: Chris Evans’s TFI Friday, which during its swaggering imperial phase kick-started the 90’s weekend, is back with a special edition (Friday 12 June, 9pm, Channel 4).

Murder in the First s1 ep 10

As if to make up for the measured pace of the first nine episodes of the season, the finale shifts gear and goes charging through huge amounts of plot in thirty minutes or so: Terry and Hildy, trying to find out who killed Neyers, will suspect Blunt, Salter, Harbach, Mrs Harbach, Wilkerson, Navarro, and a dude called Howard Toomey, before finally working it out. At least this time they have the support of Koto, who seems to have developed a pair after last week: “We don’t work for Perez. This is my call”.

Which, once the mystery has been solved, brings us to what looks like the inevitable endpoint: Terry and Hildy go for a walk in Golden Gate Park, chug some beers, brush up against each other… But just as Terry mentions “love”, and they look at each other soulfully, a phone rings and the moment is interrupted. I’ve asked this before of other shows, but isn’t anyone thinking of me? Just because there’s been a suicide, that’s no reason for a ship to capsize.

But that’s where we end the first season, and if you’ve been counting you’ll have seen something of a difference of opinion on Unpopcult about this show. For what it’s worth, though, I thought Murder in the First was very good indeed. On one level was it was endearingly old-fashioned – one investigation, two cops, a bit of will-they-won’t-they – although that might have been because Steven Bochco was at the wheel. But it was refreshing to watch a new show which didn’t want to be the most important thing in the history of Western culture, but stuck to the basic premise of a good story told well. I’m delighted it has been renewed, and that it seems we in the UK might get season 2 as early as May. And if anyone’s wondering whether to give this season a go, I’d recommend it.

Murder in the First s1 ep 9

Post-verdict, Murder in the First felt this week like a show in search of something to do. Terry and Hildy are still determined to prove that Erich ordered the murder of Neyers, his biological father. Koto, meantime, is equally determined to keep them away from the case, although this might be for political reasons, because he’s still involved with Perez who we learn (I think for the first time?) is married. Anyway, Hildy sees them making out, and challenges Koto: “Are you a politician now, or still a cop?” Ooh, burn.

In order to keep Terry and Hildy busy, Koto gives them the case of a drug-addicted heiress found dead in her bath. Probably killed by her husband, although Daniels – also representing him – turns up with an apparently unbreakable alibi. As of now I don’t really care. And nor do Tildy, not really; they’re still worrying away at the Erich Blunt investigation, and manage at least to establish that Walton wasn’t Neyers’s killer. (This after managing to get D-Hop to change his mind – not for the first time – with lots of “I’ll protect you” chat. Rarely ends well.) Even after that, though, Koto tries to rein them in, which is starting to make me wonder just why he’s so keen not to go after Erich. Trying to win Perez away from her husband, or something else?

And for Erich, a mixed week: he goes on TV to complain about the horrible police and DA persecuting him, but later on Ivana walks out on his company, in order to form a new one with the litigious geek from the first couple of episodes. (I like the way that Murder in the First is prepared to drop story arcs and pick them up later.) Not bad, but I felt as if we were marking time a bit: I’m guessing that next week will be about trying to bring Erich down once and for all, and I wouldn’t mind another Terry/Hildy kiss either.

Murder in the First s1 ep 8

The end of the trial is approaching in ‘Win Some, Lose Some’, and everyone’s getting tetchy: the courtroom exchanges between ADA Siletti (Currie Graham, who was Walter Mashburn in The Mentalist) and Warren Daniels have a real edge to them; in the precinct, Lieutenant Koto is snarling at everyone; and Erich argues with Daniels over whether he should give evidence. Of course, as soon as the issue is raised we kind of know that he will, and in keeping with the way in which the courtroom scenes have been handled it’s neither great nor terrible; he’s managing pretty well, in fact, until the end, when he fires out an ill-chosen jibe about Siletti’s cheap suit.

Then we need to wait for the verdict, which – once again, just like Murder One – has real suspense to it: the prosecution case has been strong but not overwhelming, with room for reasonable doubt if the jury chooses to look for it. There are a few distractions: Terry re-interviews the dude convicted of the murder of Erich’s biological father; Mr and Mrs Wilkerson bicker; Molk – or did I imagine this? – is tacitly rebuffed by Hannah; and Terry makes the mistake of sleeping with his realtor, who makes a declaration of love on their first date. Red flag.

But we’re not made to wait too long for the jury’s verdict of REDACTED, which for what it’s worth seemed correct to me, and nicely lines up the shocking final scene. Murder in the First managed its transition from procedural to courtroom drama very well, so it’ll be interesting to see if the show can stick the landing in the final two episodes. This, meantime, was very good indeed.