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Silent Witness is no Cracker

SILENT Witness (BBC1, Sun) Once Upon a Time (Channel 5, Sun) Homeland (Ch4, Fri)

THEY love Silent Witness across the water. This was the start of the 15th series, an incredible tally, given that it's been eight years since original star Amanda Burton departed.

Silent Witness is a changed beast these days, taking its style tips -- washed-out colours, lots of moody slo-mo -- as well as its cavalier treatment of what forensic pathologists do from the CSI franchise. The gore level and body count has been upped, too.

I counted five deaths in the first 10 minutes. A female pathologist is stabbed, to the sound of screechy Psycho-strings, by a killer hiding under a bed. Her big sister commits suicide. A father, daughter and grandson are, respectively, stabbed, burned and asphyxiated with a plastic bag.

If you count CCTV footage of someone being shot in a car, that brings the murders up to five, and several more were mentioned in passing. They're all the work, learned pathologists Nikki (Emilia Fox), Harry (Tom Ward) and Leo (William Gaminara), of a female serial killer dubbed "the Wraith", who manipulates vulnerable, easily-led men into helping her kill.

The murder side of things is exceptionally well done but the central characters, for all their personal angst, are generic and a little dull. Cracker fused crazed killers with domestic drama better almost 20 years ago.

The story concludes tonight and you could do a lot worse. You would have done a lot better last night, however, with the engaging Once Upon a Time, which is due on RTE2 later in the year.

In a parallel fairytale world, Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) save their baby daughter from the evil queen (Lana Parrilla) by hiding her in an enchanted wardrobe, which transports her to our world.

Twenty-eight years later, she's grown up to be Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison), a kick-ass bail bondswoman unaware of her unusual parentage. A boy called Henry (Jared S Gilmore) turns up claiming to be the son she gave up for adoption when she was 18, and leads her to a Maine town called Storybrooke (geddit?), where all the other fairytale characters live, equally unaware of their original identities.

Snow White is now kindly teacher Miss Blanchard (see what they did there?), while the evil queen is none other than the town mayor and Henry's adoptive mother. Robert Carlyle, a creepy Rumplestiltskin, has become the equally unnerving Mr Gold.

It's a preposterous proposition but made with such style -- the special effects are terrific -- and acted with such straight-faced conviction that you're gripped straight away.

We don't often review programmes screened the previous Friday in our Monday column. But it would be criminal not to mention Homeland, which bowed out with a nail-biting feature-length finale that gripped like wet rope right until the final fadeout.

I'm not about to spoil the fun for those of you following it on Channel 4, where there are still five episodes to go, so let's just say it didn't disappoint. Several expectations were upended, a number of niggling matters were left unsolved (Saul's polygraph test blip back in episode seven, for instance) and a late realisation by Carrie, just as she was slipping under anaesthetic, tantalisingly set up the second series.

You might be surprised to learn that Homeland hasn't made it into RTE2's latest top 20 Nielsen-rated programmes. How can a series that's collected a raft of awards and received rave reviews wherever it's been shown make such little impact on Irish viewers?

The answer seems to lie in RTE's dumb decision to schedule Homeland against the juggernaut that is The Late Late Show. It's ratings suicide. If the national broadcaster is going to treat the best American imports money can buy in such an offhand fashion, why bother even purchasing them?