TV review: The Shadow Line | Luther | The Apprentic

THE SHADOW LINE BBC2 Thursday, 9pmLUTHER BBC1 Tuesday, 9pmTHE APPRENTICE BBC1 Wednesday, 9pm

I LOVED every artfully half-empty room in The Shadow Line, every killer crease in every pair of breeks. I loved every silence, then every amplified crackle of tobacco when a fag was sparked (and I especially loved the big Turk's blowtorch lighter).

I loved how it had the confidence not to start with alluring Eve Best, and also the confidence to drop two-parts-camp-to-11-parts psycho Rafe Spall right out of episode six. I loved how it didn't look and feel anything like a British TV crime drama and yet after approximately 5,072 different (but not that different) variations on the theme since Dixon Of Dock Green, this is exactly what it was.

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But if you were to ask me what happened, I'd have to say: I wish I'd stuck in at school, I wish I'd gone to university, I wish I'd read all those improving books my mum left by my bed in a vain attempt to wean me off comics (I was, at this point, 24). The truth is: I just don't know. That should be a flaw in Hugo Blick's series, but it isn't. I'm sure if the BBC were to send me the box set (unsubtle hint) I'd become more enlightened. Who knew that a police pensions scam could be so frightening and so gripping?

The writing, directing and acting were all masterful. There wasn't just one terrifically scary bad guy, there were three: Jay (Spall), Glickman (Antony Sher) and Gatehouse (Stephen Rea). I wondered how the show was going to bring the latter two together, and whether, like the Pacino-De Niro summit in Heat, this would be a letdown. It took place in a Dublin antique-clock shop and, no, it wasn't. Gatehouse and Glickman. The merest mention of their names could prompt shudders and peeks under the bed for years to come, just like The Usual Suspects' Keyser Sze. "People don't do bad things because they want to stroke a white cat," said Gatehouse. Yes, and next to The Shadow Line, most crime dramas which big up the "psychological" are as complex as Balamory's PC Plum on the lookout for a lost bicycle.

I should also mention Kierston Wareing who, alternating between good and bad, cool and brassy, is the gun-for-hire for detective sagas right now. A prostitute in The Runaway recently, she was a cop in The Shadow Line. She's in Scott & Bailey tonight and last week it looked like she was about to be involved in a TV's-most-fantastical-lips contest with Ruth Wilson when Luther returned for a second season.

In the end, they didn't actually have a mouth-off. While Wareing's troubled mother was hoping Luther (Idris Elba) could dispense careers advice to a daughter getting involved in the porn industry, Wilson's Alice was banged up in a secure hospital. The weirdest relationship in all TV resumed when Luther visited, Alice complained about her "breathtakingly unerotic" surroundings and naturally made them sound very erotic – then Luther, on leaving, tossed her a swipecard over the wall inside an apple.

This is entirely in keeping with the Luther-Alice dynamic. You might remember last time out how much she enjoyed the moment, in her Bonnie Parker beret with a sawn-off shotgun in her hand, when calling for a vote to decide the fate of the cop who'd murdered Luther's estranged wife. Springing Alice from her loony-bin will be key to Luther catching killers (being one herself, she understands them) and us watching the rest of the run.

This is, of course, a crime drama which bigs up the psychological. Not a great one; the basis for it is quite mad. Alice, I stress, is a quadruple-killer at least while Luther is still, just, an officer of the law. But Elba is a god, Wilson simply ravishing and they're brilliant together. When Luther ends, as it probably will after this series, I'd cheerfully watch them front the Beeb's Breakfast show. Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams, tragically, lack their chaos and danger.

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No shortage of either in The Apprentice. Alan Sugar stood on a balcony in what remains of Fleet Street and told the business hopefuls to go off and create free magazines. The ink trade ain't what it used to be, and I'll tell you why: no-one cares about spelling or anything. During brainstorming for the contents of a lads' mag, someone in Natasha's team scribbled "nacked girls" on a whiteboard. I've been doing this job for a while and I know how important naked girls are.

Both mags were disastrous – Jim's team, aiming at old folk, called theirs Hip Replacement – which made for a classic episode with lots of animal analogies at the death, Jim dubbing Susan Bambi until being reminded it was Bambi's mum who got shot, then calling her a mouse. "You can talk the hind legs off a donkey," Lord Sugar told him, "but what I've forgotten about bullshit you ain't even learned yet." And this lot have still to be fed to the lions – His Lordship's corporate bastard mates.

• This article was first published in the Scotland on Sunday on June 18, 2011

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