It was the first episode of a new series of Crimecall (RTÉ One, Monday, 9.35pm) and Sharon Ní Bheoláin looked delighted to be back on air, promising the programme would be “jam packed” with crimes, before asking the first garda: “What gems have you got for us this month?”
The tone was weirdly jolly, considering many of the unsolved cases are so serious.
This included the worrying disappearance of 37-year-old Damien Bain in Co Wicklow in July, and that truly awful aggravated burglary in Co Roscommon in August where 93-year-old Una Farrell and two of her sons were held hostage for 45 minutes while four masked men ransacked the mini market she’s been running for more than six decades.
It’s a delicate balancing act when using real-life crimes as entertainment. How do you keep it engaging for viewers without trivialising the real trauma? And of course if you’re too earnest, you can easily be accused of having your cake and eating it.
To be fair, Crimecall mostly gets the balance right, and Ní Bheoláin remains an adept and still sadly underused presenter.
But in a TV environment saturated with all manner of crime-related content, it’s important to not be seen to play down the real ones.
Even burglaries and other so-called minor crimes can have huge effects on the victims.
There is a place for black humour. The plays and films of Martin McDonagh tread that fine line brilliantly. But the moments of dark comedy in Inside Man (BBC One, Monday/Tuesday, 9pm) including jokes about rape and child porn, felt… off. Unearned.
In fact, the whole of the first two episodes of this new drama came across as embarrassingly overcooked from the start.
Stanley Tucci is a wife killer on Death Row who solves mysteries. Think of him as a sort of cross between Hannibal Lecter and Sherlock Holmes, with a fellow prisoner who’s murdered 15 women (a fact which is played for laughs) as his Dr Watson.
David Tennant, meanwhile, is a vicar in England who throws his son’s maths tutor down the stairs into his basement to stop her telling anyone about the existence of a memory stick containing the aforementioned child porn.
The theme that “everyone is a murderer, all it takes is a good reason and a bad day” is trite, and the manner in which it unfolds just too preposterous to survive more than 30 seconds of consideration.
I watched it on BBC iPlayer straight after Crimecall with a bad internet connection. A message kept flashing up: “The content doesn’t seem to be working.”
“You’re not kidding,” I thought.
It’s hard to say where it went wrong. There’s nothing else like it on TV, which ought to count in its favour, and Tennant even manages to make the line “let’s have a cup of tea” sound sinister.
Frustratingly, though, the way these characters behave is totally unbelievable, and the tone often strays close to a Carry On film (“vicar, could you hide my porn… I mean my flash drive?”).
The reason only became clear on realising that Inside Man was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Paul McGuigan, two men responsible for some of the sillier excesses of the Sherlock and Doctor Who reboots.
They have no shortage of ideas, but they’ve generally been done better many times before, and the end product invariably ends up being a messy triumph of self-satisfied style over substance.
At least Karen Pirie (UTV, Sunday, 8pm) is aware of the problematic nature of portraying violence against women in a fictional setting. Too often in crime thrillers, women’s brutalised bodies are simply part of the entertainment, with the focus being on the personal struggles of the (frequently male) detectives.
The premise of this new mini-series – an adaptation of a novel by Scottish crime writer Val McDermid – is the reopening of a case involving the murder of a barmaid 25 years previously.
In the book, it’s prompted by advances in forensic science. Here, the show’s writer Emer Kenny makes it due to an amateur true crime podcast which retrospectively accuses the police of “victim blaming”.
Soon the men who found the barmaid dying that night long ago, and who clearly have something to hide, are being bumped off one by one.
Karen Pirie may also be guilty of that aforementioned crime of having one’s cake and eating it, since the whole thing is still shaped around the body of a murdered woman. But it’s refreshing to see a show which is aware that these issues of exploitation exist.
Does it need to be so long, though? It’s a solidly made police procedural, but murder mysteries, however good, shouldn’t overstay their welcome.
Karen Pirie has been stretched out to six hours (including ads) over three Sundays. That’s more than two hours longer than Cecil B DeMille’s Biblical epic The Ten Commandments. The story being told isn’t deserving of this length.
No one in their right mind tunes into the Budget 2023 (RTÉ One, Tuesday, 12.40pm) coverage for pleasure or relaxation. It’s all about facts and figures, and the analysis thereof. But the mind can only take in so much statistical data before starting to wander.
On Tuesday afternoon I began wondering why David McCullagh was behind a desk with a laptop while his co-host Vivienne Traynor was stuck at the end of an enormous, otherwise empty sofa with nothing but a glass of water to keep her company.
McCullagh looked like he was presenting Prime Time, and Traynor as if she was on a cheap and cheerful daytime chat show.
Why not the other way round?