TV review: Digging up old crimes in The Pembrokeshire Murders and old slapstick in Happy Birthday Mr Bean

A breakthrough in The Pembrokeshire Murders (ITV) comes when the prime suspect is discovered to have been a contestant on Bullseye, the TV darts quiz presented by Jim Bowen where, in legend, the winners all went home with speedboats.

Rosario Dawson investigating her sister's murder min Briarpatch

Without wishing to appear crass, the cold-case investigation into two 1980s double murders as portrayed in this true-crime drama has a bit of game-show tension about it when Det Supt Steve Wilkins (Luke Evans) is told he only has £17,000 remaining of a £350,000 forensics budget and he’s pondering whether or not to spend it.

Stick or twist? Got to hurry you, Steve.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

There is little that’s glamorous about this story from Wales. Never mind the financial constraints, the cops were branded “institutionally incompetent” for failing to snare the killer first time round, so there’s a reluctance to go digging around again in 2006, even with advances in DNA at their disposal.

Luke Evans on the trail of the Bullseye serial killer

The chief constable might look a bit like Matt Hancock, but he has no reason to share the health secretary’s predilection for bragging.

ITV does like to be beside the seaside (Broadchurch, Liar, The Bay) and here we are again. Pembrokeshire’s coastline is jaggedly spectacular, but tourism has suffered since the murders. Wilkins, though, is convinced that John Cooper (Keith Allen), banged up for lesser crimes, is his man.

Stunning though the scenery may be, the locations manager has made no effort to match it with his selected buildings.

The action moves from brutalist cop-shop to grimly unwelcoming pub to a clump of squat, ugly houses huddled up next to each other. They resemble a pack of Welsh rugby forwards from a miserable era for the national team, rusting satellite dishes like cauliflower ears.

The strapping Wilkins looks like he might play rugby in his spare time. If he had any, that is.

The kitchen table at home is always covered with case files. His wife has long since left him and he struggles to maintain relationships with his kids. The long wait for a whodunnit featuring a crimebuster with a happy domestic life continues, but Evans brings a quiet soulfulness to his role and there’s nothing wrong with his ears.

Allen, meanwhile, plays Cooper with chilling malevolence, a man who got lucky in another competition – winning £94,000 in Spot the Ball – only to blow the lot.

“A psychopath and a narcissist,” is the verdict of his psychologist. And a bully to his wife and especially his son.

Sometimes strip programming taking over the bulk of a week makes you feel guilty, indulgent, seedy and dull, but The Pembrokeshire Murders – never showy and instead taut, gripping and sensitive – isn’t like that.

There’s a terrific stat at the beginning of Happy Birthday Mr Bean (ITV). At the height of the gormless galoot’s international celebrity, he possessed the seventh most recognisable face on the planet.

Who were the six ahead of him? That’s what I want to know. Unfortunately, this 30th anniversary tribute to Rowan Atkinson’s comic creation doesn’t tell us.

What do we learn? That, when trying out gags, the litmus test was “will they find this funny in Egypt?” – and they probably did because Bean’s global audience reached 1.2 billion.

That Friends stole the one about him getting his head stuck up the back end of a Christmas turkey. That Atkinson did all his own stunts, such as sticking an armchair on the roof of his Mini and driving the car from up there. That he was Bean and Bean was him. “That was just who I was when denied verbal expression,” he says, with friend and fellow writer Richard Curtis confirming that “Ro” was “the lonely schoolboy no one talked to”.

Confession-time: I didn’t used to find Bean funny, but now, watching him accidentally headbutt the Queen or struggle with disco-dancing, I get it. Maybe when you reach a certain age your sense of humour goes into reverse – right back to childhood and those compendiums of silent comedy, which were always shown on TV on Boxing Day morning: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and, best of all for me, the cross-eyed capers of Ben Turpin.

Bean’s slapstick looks as easy as falling off the roof of a Mini, but wasn’t. Umpteen takes were required. “Maybe number 18 would be better than number five,” says Atkinson. “Usually it wasn’t.” Perfectionism, he admits, is like a disease. “So debilitating, so draining.” It’s a surprise, then, to learn that he’s thinking about bringing the chump back.

Lockdown and the need for idiot-lantern solace can lead us down some strange avenues. I’d never watched anything on Alibi before and on the strength of the opening instalment of Briarpatch there may be none stranger than Main Street, San Bonifacio.

Allegra Dill (Rosario Dawson) returns to her Texan hometown after some years away to find kangaroos in the middle of the road, alligators in the park and, in the closing scene, a tiger in her hotel corridor.

The escapees from the local zoo are a distraction as Dill, a US Senate investigator, tries to find out why her sister was killed by a car-bomb.

There are others such as her relationship with her senator. “No closed hands,” he wails after being punched, and just before kinky sex. The absence of tarragon in a kitchen cupboard is a big clue for Dill. My money’s on the killers being called Parsley and Sage, aided and abetted by Rosemary and Thyme.

A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers. If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.