TV preview: Scott & Bailey | Andrew Marr's Megacities | Storyville: Amnesty! When They Are All Free

When John Logie Baird famously declared that, if he could be remembered for one thing, it would be as the inventor of a device responsible for proliferating an endless procession of populist cop dramas showing at 9pm on Sunday evenings, little could he have known that his dream would come so vividly to fruition.

But whenever a new one emerges unbidden, like a thief in the night, surely all but the most dedicated sleuth fan must ask the same question: do we really need any more of these?

Well, on the evidence of SCOTT & BAILEY the woolly answer seems to be: Yes. Sometimes. Possibly.

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It's difficult to get excited about this female-fronted cop drama, simply because of the kind of show it is. And yet there's a believable quality to the writing, replete with leavening dashes of wit and warmth, which elevates it beyond the po-faced likes of DCI Banks and the woefully generic Above Suspicion.

Part of that must surely be thanks to co-creator Diane Taylor, a respected real-life Detective Inspector whose experience ensures that Scott & Bailey avoids some of the more hokey genre clichs.

From the makers of acclaimed dramas such as Unforgiven and Single Father, it stars Suranne Jones (who co-devised the basic concept) and Lesley Sharp as detectives working for a Manchester police unit specialising in murder.

Likeable and sympathetic, they struggle to – you guessed it – juggle harried personal lives with the demands of their profession. It's therefore difficult to avoid comparisons with Cagney and Lacey, not least because Scott (Sharp) is a happily married family woman and Bailey (Jones) is a tough maverick with a complicated love life.

Indeed, the focus in Part One rests largely on the abrupt fall-out of Bailey's relationship with a slick city type played by Rupert Graves.

He lives in a starkly modern apartment and wears a silk dressing gown: she should've known he was a rotter.

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While the parallels between her investigation into his secret background and the details of their concurrent murder case are rather too blatant to fully convince, it's refreshing to witness screen detectives getting results with empathetic, softly-spoken interrogations rather than the usual theatrics.

Even the traditional ball-busting boss character, played here by Amelia Bullmore and based on DI Taylor herself, fulfils her requirements with uncharacteristic restraint.

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And although Scott & Bailey conforms to the case-of-the-week paradigm, it contains at least two overarching storylines with intriguing potential. So, if it doesn't reinvent the wheel, it at least maintains its function with a certain calm authority.

The new series, ANDREW MARR'S MEGACITIES, was initially scheduled to be shown a few weeks ago, but was suddenly postponed for reasons unclear.

What's that? Oh.

Well in that case, what's the problem? Were the BBC concerned that even the mere sight of Marr's, ah, characterful face would send viewers into paroxysms of righteous fury?

Did they think that people would somehow doubt the integrity of his views on the infrastructures of international metropolises, just because he had an extramarital affair? I'm not defending his behaviour, but unless he was caught in flagrante with a Tokyo bus stop, I don't really see what relevance it has.

Anyway, here he is, as puckishly bombastic and engaging as ever, delivering a series of ruminative essays on five great cities of the modern world: London, New York, Shanghai, Tokyo, Dhaka and Mexico City.

A slightly awkward mishmash of light-hearted travelogue and socio-architectural analysis, its populist leanings occasionally overshadow its more serious intent.

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Marr spending an uncomfortable night in a Bangladeshi slum is somewhat amusing – especially when the locals compare him to Mr Bean – but hardly illuminating. It's just a typical fish-out-of-water stunt: the hapless misadventures of the BBC man abroad.

Nevertheless, it contains some startling moments, such as a visit to some overpriced apartments in overstuffed Tokyo, which are little more than customised glass corridors offering no privacy whatsoever. And Marr's general point that cities tend to value progress and their come-hither image over the needs of their most vulnerable inhabitants, is made clearly and strongly enough.

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The world's oppressed are also in evidence in STORYVILLE: AMNESTY! WHEN THEY ARE ALL FREE, a commendably even-handed documentary charting the remarkable 50-year history of human rights colossus, Amnesty International.

Unafraid to discuss the nave errors that the organisation has made (not supporting Nelson Mandela because of his belief in violent protest? Really, Amnesty?), as well as their numerous heroic achievements, this absorbing film is inspiring, thought-provoking and frequently disturbing.

The story of their struggle to remain politically neutral in the face of worldwide government opportunism proves particularly revealing.

But it also has the dispiriting effect of reminding us that, no matter how many criminal despots are toppled, there will always be another waiting to take their place, more ruthless and violent than the last.

But without the altruistic efforts of groups such as Amnesty, there would be little hope at all for those who suffer under such regimes.

And if that mission led to some horribly earnest rock music in the 1980s – illustrated here by the ghastly spectacle of a pony-tailed Sting dancing with the Argentinian Mothers of the Disappeared – then that's a minuscule price to pay.


Tomorrow, STV, 9pm


Thursday, BBC1, 8pm


Tuesday, BBC 4, 9pm

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This article was first published in The Scotsman, 28 May, 2011