TV reviews: Rebus versus Bridgerton - why soor ploom sleuth starring Richard Rankin tops Netflix period drama

In the latest reboot of Ian Rankin’s iconic detective, Richard Rankin serves up a gloriously grumpy version of John Rebus, who hangs over the show like haar while despairing of tourist Edinburgh and tangling with gangsters

Rebus BBC Scotland, BBC1 ****

Bridgerton Netflix **

The Gathering Channel 4 ***

Janey BBC Scotland ****

They’re big shoes to fill, the Crocs of Charlie Fairhead, a Saturday night dependable in Casualty since the invention of anaesthetic. OK, that’s out of synch historically but you know what I mean. So who’s going to shore up the schedules? Why Scotland. First came the Dundee-set Traces and now here’s Rebus with Ian Rankin’s soor ploom sleuth back patrolling the mean streets of Edinburgh.

I say back but the new series, premiering on iPlayer yesterday ahead of tonight’s prime BBC1 slot, is a kind of prequel revealing the younger man, rather like Endeavour with Inspector Morse, although the character, played by Richard Rankin, is operating in the here and now. So more like a reimagining.

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I say the streets are mean but this is John Rebus’ biting take on his Embra: “Toon’s a theme park these days. F****n’ Instagrammers and Quidditch nonces.” He also affirms: “There are no gangsters here – just boys that think they are.”

And I say Ian Rankin but Gregory Burke scripted these words. Burke wrote the modern Scottish stage classic Black Watch about war-traumatised squaddies from his native Fife and there’s another one here: Rebus’s brother Michael (Brian Ferguson) on the other side of the Forth who our man socks in the jaw, demolishing a coffee table, in front of Rebus’s young daughter Sammy - not ideal on your one day of access to the kid.

This happens in the first few minutes but after he’s beat up a road crash victim in the back of an ambulance. Ger Cafferty is a gangster, which knocks Rebus’s theory out of Holyrood Park. Cafferty, does, though, share his distaste for Edinburgh gone chi-chi. “Hard breid and chickpeas? Better aff goin’ to Greggs”. And there’s another right bad yin called Jimmy McJagger. No, really. That’s as ridiculous as Shuggie McOppenheimer or Senga McKardashian.

Can you tell I’m enjoying this? Maybe more than the Ken Stott and John Hannah versions (sorry, guys). I was worried the rebooted Rebus might be tourist TV, overdoing the postcard imagery, but the dour detective continues to hang over the show like haar, such as when he’s paired with new sidekick Siobhan Clarke (Lucie Shorthouse), a fast-tracked graduate from down south. “Someone like you is always going to love Embra,” he tells her. “Folk come here from England, go to uni, get a degree and fall in love with the place so they stay. They get married and have kids, then start Instagramming and cycling aboot like they’re in Denmark … ” What a grumpy git. He’s great.

Jumping straight from Edinburgh’s gutters to the manicured lawns and glistening halls of Bridgerton is always going to be tricky. For me, anyway, as I’m not much of a period-drama fan, and especially when there isn’t a single smart or witty line.

I mean, the show, now in its third season, is billed as a “Regency romcom” but Rebus, which deals with crime and compromised coppers and cheating wives and desperate husbands keeping guns in bike sheds, is way funnier. And specifically why isn’t Nicola Coughlan funny? She’s Lady Whistledown who, during debutantes' season, scribbles down every twirl of the parasols and flutter of the fans for her scandal sheet. Coughlan was in Derry Girls which was hilarious. She must be raging.

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Her character is certainly raging that she doesn’t yet have a husband so undergoes a style makeover in the hope of snaring one. The ritual parade of fillies and flibbertigibbets before an old bat with a steepling wig called Lady Frightfully Awfully or something is a cattle market like Eric “Reverse order” Morley’s beauty contests, with enormous chandeliers instead of Mecca glitterballs. But at least during Miss World Bob Hope would tell some jokes.

Twenty years ago the Liverpool author Helen Walsh caused a sensation with first book, Brass, a wild, teen coming-of-age tale, and just as much of one when details of her own young life emerged: dropping her first E before her first period or kiss and her job as a fixer hooking up male punters with transvestite prostitutes in Barcelona.

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Interviewing Walsh in her home city she was a riot, as you can probably imagine, and her parting shot was: “Write what you like about me but be rude about Liverpool and I’ll come after you.” Mindful of that, I like her first drama for TV, The Gathering, and am sure the Mersey is clean enough to drink when the main character somersaults from a pier after bunking off school to parkour down the statuary.

Is parkour a verb? Search me, never tried it. Sheltered upbringing, but then that’s most of us apart from Walsh. Kelly (Eva Morgan) is a brilliant parkourer, if that’s the correct term, though throwing herself at cold, hard stone is at odds with her training as a gymnast and, having just won a place at a GB camp, is promptly stripped of it. There’s a rivalry: Jessica (Sadie Soverall) is a frenemy who was desperate for that place, though not as desperate as her stage, or crashmat, mum. Jessica comes from a posh home, Kelly from the other side of the tracks. Jessica is also being pushed to try for music academy but, after the first knockback thinks what the heck, sexting one of the bad boys is way more fun.

The class differences can come over clunky but The Gathering gathers terrific energy from those free-runners whose daredevil moves are expertly filmed, and it’s great to see this thrilling pastime have its cool quotient restored after Matt Hancock tried it with a Tory HQ photographer conveniently present. Who, though, is behind the incident at an illegal beach rave where Kelly almost drowns?

Walsh is a riot but Janey Godley is more riotous. The documentary Janey follows the comedian’s Not Dead Yet tour, having refused to be beaten by cancel culture and cancer. “Soon as they pulled the cannula out of my hand I was: ‘Get me to the van.’ In just the first few minutes, Donald Trump, Michelle Mone, Jane McDonald and David Cameron (subject of an erotic dream: “I’d rather it had been an Alsatian”) suffer her scabrous wit. She reflects on a tough childhood, being sexually abused by an uncle and finding out her husband came from a gangster clan. Along for the ride are cravat-sporting agent Chris, best friend Shirley, daughter Ashley - and Nicola Sturgeon, enjoying what newspapers would drolly call “happier times”. Godley receives an award from Billy Connolly: “Just knowing that he knows me makes my fanny tingle.”



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