Aidan Smith's TV week: The Tower (ITV), Close to Me (Channel 4), Narcos: Mexico (Netflix)
It’s a brave show which muscles in on Line of Duty territory and maybe a foolish one which does so without thunderous theme music, exciting shootouts and the mordant wit of Ted Hastings.
But, mother of god, the latter would be plagiarism, wouldn’t it? The Tower (ITV) opts to go about the business of cops investigating cops in an overtly unflashy manner, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. Gemma Whelan as the central character, Det Sgt Sarah Collins, is given no backstory if you don’t count an ex-partner - female, unseen - who seems to have exited in a hurry. It’s all about the case and at the end you’re not left with a sense of satisfaction that heroic officers beyond reproach have rooted out some bad apples because that’s not what happens at all.
This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Patrick Harbinson’s crime thriller. In its flatly authentic way it’s slow to get going, but perks up when a cop reluctant to help Collins’ investigation asks: “Ever wondered why you’re a DS at your age?” Our heroine replies: “Er, because I can’t tell jokes to blokes in bars?”
No one wants her around; no one wants her questioning how the police go about their work when there’s so much pressure to get results and, well, if corners have to be cut and nobody dies, what’s the problem?
The trouble here is two people die - a police officer and a Libyan teenager plunge from the top of a tower block, the girl having snatched a five-year-old boy and taken him onto the roof.
Something else The Tower has going for it is Emmett J. Scanlan as DI Kieran Shaw who right away appears to be the rottenest, most worm-infested apple, if only Collins can prove it. I last saw Scanlan in Channel 5’s The Deceived playing a sleazy lecturer. His outrageously virile locks suited that part and I’m wondering if he might have asked ITV if he should get a haircut for the role of an upholder of the law until being told: “You’re all right, this is sleazy as well.”
There’s a big case ongoing (sex trafficking by an organised crime gang) and a small one (a dispute between neighbours). The two become linked when a long-serving, well-respected copper is accused of using racist language. “He was joking,” insists Shaw, but what a time for a drama involving so much constabulary self-preservation and the belief that society’s rules somehow don’t apply to the police when real cops are being accused of behaving like dinosaurs almost every week.
In the psychological thriller Close to Me (Channel 4) the Danish actress Connie Nielsen is Jo Harding who wakes up in hospital having fallen down the stairs in her home. She’s suffering from amnesia and the docs tell her: “The best way to get your memory back is to be among familiar surroundings.”
So she’s in the car with husband Rob and asks: “When did you start smoking?” I thought her first question might have been: “You’re Christopher Eccleston - what does Wella for Men call that blond tint in your hair?”
Then she asks: “Are you having an affair?” He says not. “Am I?”
In the pocket of her coat she finds a condom. In flashbacks she’s in a nightclub, in the throes of passion. Who’s that hunky young man waving from the lawn? “That’s Owen the gardener,” says Rob. So she asks Owen: “Were we close, you and me?” He replies: “Well, I have handled your lobelia … ”
Is Close to Me silly? At times, yes. But it’s also intriguing. Imagine if you had great chunks of your life wiped out. Contemplate - because I can’t - the horror of having witnessed Hibernian finally win the Scottish Cup but no longer being able to retrieve a single misty, watercolour memory of the epic day.
There are five more episodes and I want to know what Jo did. I also want her to ask the burning question: “This house: did Kevin ‘Grand Designs’ McCloud not warn us against it being so ridiculously modern, especially given that in similar surroundings a man fell down a staircase in Keeley Hawes’ Finding Alice?”
During lockdown many of us played catch-up with dramas we never got round to watching when they were first broadcast. Thus I became just about the last person I know to get hooked on Narcos (Netflix).
I never thought I would. Who cares about Pablo Escobar? I like contemporary, British-set dramas filmed in dangerous dreamhomes! But Narcos is a high-concept, semi-documentary thrill-ride through desperate hilltop shanty-towns with buddy drug enforcers hunting down a monster who - the show’s cleverest trick - induces a disturbing amount of sympathy.
There were three seasons before a projected fourth grew into its own thing and now Narcos: Mexico is on its third outing with yet more stunningly vertiginous locations and vicious new cartel kingpins crawling out from under the baked rocks.
The spin-off, though, has a Felix Gallardo-sized hole to fill. He was Narcos: Mexico’s terrifying charmer until being banged up at the end of the last series, his parting words being: “You’re going to miss me.” Who can step into his alligator loafers?
My pesos are on Amado Carillo Fuentes, the “Lord of the Heavens” with his air smuggling network and the man in black who never sweats. He’s up against the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Walt Breslin, who never sleeps, never even seems to wash but crucially never gives up.
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