A plague on cliffhangers!

TV drama series – and especially crime series – have always depended on cliffhangers for suspense – small ones at the end of every episode, larger ones at the end of a season. The small ones, such as who the hooded figure in the shadows is, or whether a victim is dead or alive, keep us tuning in  the following week. The larger ones build loyalty to a brand and give us a hook to tempt us back next month, next year, or whenever the next series is shown.

Usually those end-of-season teasers have involved something that doesn’t affect the current plot. Frequent favourites are whether two major characters are going to have a relationship or not, or whether the particular team/squad/company is going to be closed down.

Just lately, though, I’ve noticed a sudden outbreak of cliffhangers that do involve the plot, and sometimes in quite a major way. The first of these was the Spanish series ‘I Know Who You Are’. I waded through ten episodes of melodrama and family arguments to find out whether the main suspect was guilty and whether the victim was going to be released in good health to the loving arms of her family, only to find that half of the entire plot wasn’t resolved. (I’m deliberately keeping this light on detail in case anyone still hasn’t seen the series.)

It was a bit irritating, and I was left feeling cheated, somehow – that the whole reason for watching the series was being denied to me. That was bad enough, but then ‘Babylon Berlin’ came along. Again, ten episodes, with a wildly convoluted plot involving pornographic films, Russian spies, the smuggling of war weapons and gold, and a young woman who desperately wanted to join the police. It was clever, it was breathless, it kept you on the edge of your seat. And then in the final episode of the series, only one small piece of that huge jigsaw puzzle had been clicked into place. All the rest was left hanging, presumably to trap viewers into watching another ten episodes of the second series which followed soon afterwards.

But what if the second series doesn’t answer the questions either? Do we have to sit through three or four series, or more, before we find out what the answers are? Much as I enjoyed the first lot, I’m not sure I can invest another ten hours in something only to be disappointed again.

And now the practice has even crept into the otherwise reliable (and hugely enjoyable) ‘Shetland’. The last series wrapped up last week… with a sudden and completely unexplained death that should have warranted a major investigation, but didn’t – and again, no real answers. Again, presumably, we have to wait until the next series to find out what happened and why, but by then I’ll probably have forgotten most of the details and won’t really care. I want to know now, dammit!

So come on, TV production companies. Please stop cheating us by not revealing the answers at series end. It isn’t really fair on your viewers to deny them the very thing they’re watching your series for…

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Bingeing on TV crime

There are simply loads of crime drama series on TV at the moment, and although there aren’t enough hours in the day to watch all of them, I’m busy working my way through quite a few. Here’s a pick of the most recent:

Loving:

Shetland: always a breath of fresh air with great performances from Douglas Henshall and the rest of the cast, some good dialogue, an interesting story arc about a man newly released from prison who may (or may not!) be innocent of the murder he was sent down for, and on top of all that, stunning Shetland scenery. And this time round, part of the series is set in Bergen in Norway, which adds an international flavour. I’ve been to the city a couple of times so it was good to spot all my favourite landmarks again.

Babylon Berlin: A really interesting and original series set at the time of the Weimar Republic in Germany (ie, between the two World Wars). The recreation of the period feels thoroughly authentic, with some chilling reminders of what was to come for the country, a lot of cloak and dagger stuff that you suspect will turn into straightforward crime eventually (less weird politics, more jealousy and greed), and a wonderfully noir atmosphere where every character is deeply flawed and there are probably no happy endings.

Brotherhood: I’m watching this series from a couple of years ago on Catch-up, and really enjoying it in spite of the occasional wobbly accents from the two leads, Jason Isaacs and Jason Clarke – one Brit and one Aussie but both playing Irish Americans. The series is set in Providence, Rhode Island, and unlike most dramas was actually filmed there, which gives it an authentic feel straight away. It’s allegedly based on the real-life relationship between gangster Whitey Bulger and his younger, politician brother. I love the noir feel, the expose of the corrupt nature of American politics, and the way neither brother is wholly good or wholly bad.

Liking:

Endeavour: This is always a stalwart with solid performances from Shaun Evans and Roger Allam, but the current series seems better than the last, with more believable plots (no more escaped tigers!) and an ongoing story arc about racism in late Sixties Oxford. There are also lots of in-jokes and nods to celebrities and TV programmes of the time – like the dodgy hotel in one episode that was called the Crossroads Hotel!

I Know Who You Are: I finished watching this marathon Spanish crime series a few weeks ago, with mixed feelings. Overall it was interesting to see a Spanish ‘take’ on crime drama, and the central performance by Francesc Garrido as a lawyer with amnesia who may have been responsible for the disappearance of his niece was nuanced and utterly believable. In the end it went on a bit too long, was much too melodramatic, and had a really unpleasant ending which I felt exploited the suffering of a young woman (a frequent gripe these days). But it was good to try.

Not so much:

Vera: This seems to have lost its way since the episodes stopped being based on the Ann Cleeves novels. It’s turned cosy, which the original never was, and the dialogue is terrible. I watched one, two-hour episode of the most recent series and found it dreary and dull, with a telegraphed plot, ‘don’t care’ characters, and far too much reliance on catch phrases. Vera now calls every single character ‘love’ or ‘pet’, every single time she talks to them, and after a while it grates. Not a patch on the production values of Shetland, even though both series are based on books by the same author.