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We fell hook, line and sinker

The Fall (BBC2, Sunday) The Americans (UTV/ITV, Sun)

THe Fall was that rare, precious, wonderful thing: the perfect thriller. If you insist on being a nitpicker, of course, you could focus on two moments that dragged it a whisker away from perfection.

The first was when Assistant Chief Constable Burns (John Lynch, who could have a lucrative sideline as an Eric Cantona lookalike) asked DSI Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson), with whom he has romantic history, "Are you aware of the effect you have on men?"

The other was when Gibson, while contemplating an uncannily accurate photofit of devilishly handsome serial killer Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), tells a junior colleague: "Even a multiple murderer can have his share of good qualities... or a pretty face."

faultless

You wouldn't get away with dialogue that corny and clunky this side of the biggest, stinkiest wedge of Hollywood cheese. But hey, who can be bothered when everything else in The Fall's five-week run was faultless?

Alan Cubitt's script was superb; rather than yield up its secrets like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, which is what most thrillers do, it revealed them to us like small details in a photograph you don't quite notice the first time you look at it. It was only in the final episode that throwaway bits of information we'd half-absorbed earlier started to make sense.

The murder scenes, built up with agonising tension, were gripping and – another thing rare in thrillers – genuinely shocking. The performances, not just from the principals but the entire cast, were utterly convincing and the characters superbly realised.

Gibson breezed into Belfast in episode one, as cool as a shard of ice – driven, ultra-confident, dripping with condescension and as sure of her own brilliance as anyone could be – and determined to sweep aside the mediocre local cops and get the job done.

She was as blisteringly confident a heroine as television has ever had, coolly summoning a young detective (who later ended up with a couple of bullets in his back in the series' bubbling subplot) to her hotel room for some casual, stress-relieving sex. As The Fall progressed, though, we learned she wasn't quite so in control as she'd like to pretend – least of all of that blouse button that kept popping open at press conferences.

Her prey, Spector, was the most chilling killer we've ever encountered, simply because of his outward ordinariness: nice wife, nice kids, solid, worthwhile job as a bereavement counsellor. But the fact that he was prepared to conceal his true nature by lying to his wife (Bronagh Waugh, excellent) that he'd had sex with their 15-year-old babysitter hints at depths of depravity still to be plumbed.

cliffhanger

The Fall ended on a genuine cliffhanger, with Spector, not so much thinking he'd got away with it as convinced he could walk away from it with impunity, joltingly pulled up by Gibson's clinical dissection of his psyche. It sounds like a cliche, I know, but I really can't wait for the next series.

Corny and clunky seems to be the stock in trade of '80s-set spy saga The Americans, which improved vastly on last week's opening episode by being vastly worse, and therefore vastly more enjoyable.

The mission for suburban Soviet agents Phillip and Elizabeth, should they choose to accept it, was to blackmail the US secretary of defence's cleaning lady into stealing a clock from his office so they could implant a listening device in it.

This they did by way of jabbing the poor woman's son with a poison-tipped umbrella and then turning up in her apartment wearing some chronically bad disguises.

Meanwhile, the FBI agent who's moved into the house across the street from theirs appears to be trying to flush Phillip out by waving some Russian caviar under his nose – because as we all know, caviar is like catnip to undercover KGB agents. One taste and they'll give you Brezhnev's home phone number.

With operatives like this, it's a wonder anyone won the Cold War.

The Fall *****

The Americans **/***


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