Suspect Channel 4, Sunday, 9pm
Baz and Nancy’s Last Orders
RTÉ One, Monday, 9.35pm
Nazi Sa Ghaeltacht
TG4, Wednesday, 9.30pm
James Nesbitt’s previous two TV roles were as police officers haunted by their demons who are forced to look into cases that uncover secrets from their own past.
In Suspect he went totally against type by playing, er, a tortured police officer haunted by his demons who is forced to look into a case that uncovers murky secrets from his own past.
It began as he woke in his car, suggesting his personal life wasn’t exactly going swimmingly. Moments later he got into a lift and descended, with heavy-handed symbolism, as if into Hell.
Sure enough, he was on his way to the morgue, which was conveniently presided over – for the purposes of complicating the backstory – by his ex, where he discovered the body he’d come to identify was… drum roll please… his estranged daughter.
Not the best start to an assignment, let’s put it that way.
Once the obligatory over-the-top scene of actorly grief was done and dusted, Nesbitt got down to finding out whodunnit, because of course he doesn’t believe the official explanation that she committed suicide.
Set over the course of one day, and shown over four consecutive nights, Suspect introduced a new potential killer each night, like pieces in a game of Cluedo, until all was revealed on Wednesday.
Though whether anyone was left to care by then is another matter. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but the programme was so terrible it actually made Bloodlands, the Northern Irish drama which Nesbitt starred in last year, look like a masterpiece.
Perhaps that’s because it’s been made by the same writer and director – Matt Baker – behind last year’s awful Professor T. It even starred that show’s lead actor Ben Miller as an unlikely police chief, who said his lines as if he wasn’t quite sure if the script was a joke he hadn’t quite ‘got’ yet.
He wasn’t the only one floundering. The wonderful Richard E Grant appeared in one episode as a Rich Bad Guy straight out of central casting, where he was forced to utter lines like “age is just a social classification”.
For Grant, presumably, it was just another day at the office. For Nesbitt, the problem is becoming too acute. Why does he keep picking such godawful turkeys?
“It’s a f***ing conspiracy,” he shouted at one point. That may be the only explanation.
Suffice to say he solved the case in the end by spotting the killer liked to fold up crisp packets in a particular way. No, really.
“Why?” yowled Nesbitt in the final episode when the truth was revealed. I think by then we were all asking that question.
There’s a common genre of comedy now which involves stand-ups such as Romesh Ranganathan making shows with – and being generally overshadowed by – their eccentric parents.
Baz Ashmawy’s Emmy award-winning 50 Ways To Kill Your Mammy was one of the first, and now he’s back with the “straight-talking, no nonsense, mass going” Nancy for another road trip. This time they’re exploring the subject of death and funerals, which the 78-year-old (when she show was filmed pre-pandemic) thinks it’s time they discussed, while Baz would rather not.
An only child, Baz describes Nancy as “my best mate, my life mentor.” He doesn’t want to think about her not being around. His aim in this show, he explained, is to make talking about death “a natural, normal thing. You know, like a fella and his mother out for a night in Kildare, shopping for coffins.”
That quote sums up the tone of Baz and Nancy’s Last Orders perfectly. Baz is mischievous and irreverent, always looking for the funny side, as when he tries to write his own eulogy for his funeral: “He loved life and life loved him… he made people happy every day… handsome, with great hair… he went too early.”
For her: “She hung on for ever.”
But it was also genuinely touching as Baz visited his grandmother’s grave for the first time.
He hadn’t even gone to her funeral in 1989, when he was only a teenager. “We were pals,” he recalled. When his mum worked double shifts, “we’d watch the Late, Late and smoke together, not that [Nancy] knows.”
“When you’re gone, you’re gone,” was Baz’s sad but matter-of-fact conclusion. Nancy was more spiritual, believing the dead “go to a new dimension or maybe we are born again, I don’t know.”
It was a funny, lovely programme which beautifully showed the pair’s love for each other. Though I’m sure she couldn’t help noticing he got top billing in the title.
Nazi sa Ghaeltacht told the extraordinary story of a German scholar who came to Donegal in the 1930s to study Irish language and folklore, but who was secretly gathering information for the Third Reich back home for a possible invasion of Ireland.
What Dr Ludwig Mühlhausen didn’t know is that the Irish Army were in turn spying on him.
What they learned from locals is that the Nazi Party member had a “high regard for Ireland and its people, but thinks that German culture would be good for us, and our country better run by Germans than either the British or ourselves.” Not an uncommon opinion among dedicated europhiles even today, to be fair.
Eventually, investigative journalist Kevin Magee revealed, Mühlhausen ended up in the SS under the command of Heinrich Himmler, the architect of the Holocaust.
This story wasn’t entirely unfamiliar, but it would be less well known to general viewers, and Nazi sa Ghaeltacht was another masterclass from TG4 in how to make compelling, accessible history shows