Many did, making it as much of a hit as BBC 4 has ever had, with whole dinner parties agog and sales of both the dvds and Sarah Lund’s well-worn sweater soaring among the Waitrose classes. An American remake inevitably followed, but the series had already had its own successor, which comes to BBC 4 this week (and it’s only half as long this time, so get those dinner parties organised quickly).
As the reaction to Downton Abbey’s demented second series demonstrated, last year’s cult can easily become this year’s laughing stock. But so far there are no signs of that with the killing II, which begins its second investigation in briskly moody style, with the discovery of a woman’s body tied to a tree. It seems an easy case to solve, but detective Sarah Lund is asked just to double-check things by a chap called Ulric Strange, which is probably not as odd a name in Denmark as it sounds.
Since the last series, Lund has been in exile checking passports somewhere. You can tell there’s something wrong with her because she’s not wearing her magic Faroe Island Jumper of Righteous Detection, but a plain red Jumper of Suffering Guilt Over The Past. This causes her to mumble vaguely when asked for an opinion and though she’s dragged into the investigation, she keeps meekly trying to get out of it. Clearly Sarah’s lost her mojo as well as her jumper – and equally clearly it won’t last. Doughty, unglamorous and stoic, she was an interesting character in the first series mostly for all the ways in which she wasn’t interesting, or maverick, or eccentric.
Meanwhile there’s something shady going on in the Ministry to do with the passing of an anti-terrorist bill and a guy in jail is trying to get parole to be with his winsome wife and child. It’ll all tie together somehow, no doubt.
Halving the episodes seems like a good idea as the first series, despite its overall gripping plot and strong lead character, did drag in parts – it’s no coincidence that so much of the talk focused on the question of how often that jumper got washed, as some weeks there wasn’t much else happening. Hopefully now we can all move on.
At one time the idea of having to introduce people, particularly in Scotland, to the story of David Livingston and his African missionary expeditions would have been ludicrous; it’s probably not so today, when the glories of the Empire’s heroes have faded from popular attention. So in some ways the first part of Neil Oliver’s the last explorers series – part of a wider BBC Scotland effort to reawaken patriotic awareness of Wha’s Like Us when it comes to wandering the world – was a reinvention of why Livingston mattered. Now he’s celebrated less for “discovering” a passage through darkest Africa, though his exhausting journeys are still impressive, as for his strong opposition to the slave trade and conviction that all men were brothers.
Oliver, enunciating vehemently as ever, made an impassioned guide, although not all traces of the old Imperial attitudes were gone: Livingston, we were told, accomplished his most gruelling feat of crossing Africa from East to West “accompanied only by Africans”.
Nowadays, of course, Livingston would have had a camera crew with him on his great adventures - like the six British teenagers who leave behind their phones, Wiis and designer clothes to visit an American Amish community in Ohio. When the corny Waltons-style voiceover on Living with the amish began – “This is Marietta and, well, her role is to tend to the house and she just loves that” – my heart sank, expecting another clichéd culture clash with artificial situations milked for supposed humour.
But actually, the voiceover isn’t delivered by an actor trying to be funny, but Amish host Jonathan himself, a gentle soul who despite choosing not to live among the temptations of modern culture (like “fancy buttons” and electrickery), somehow is a dab hand at narration. And the teens themselves, for all their occasional failures to get it (“do you ever get a Chinese takeaway?”) and tendency to refer to everything from a horse and buggy passing to catching a fish as “insane!”, were rather charming and willing to have a go.
There are some witty bits of editing, like the Eton schoolboy solemnly declaring that “being able to live in a society which is so insular and such an archaic system will be so interesting,” while wearing a tailcoat. And, of course, there’s the obligatory chance to chortle at the British youths’ lack of handiness: doing the dishes for the first time, one marvels in shock, “You have to wash them up with the bubbles and then have a separate bowl to get the bubbles off and then you have to dry it ...”
No one’s really being mocked here: in fact, the quiet, hard-working way of life of the Amish seems quite appealing, if you could handle the rigid gender roles. And it’s genuinely heart-warming to see one boy, a drifting former foster care kid, bond with the straight-laced Jonathan so much that he makes the ultimate sacrifice by getting a bowlie haircut. We’ve seen so many stupid reality shows lately that it’s surprising to remember the genre can actually be worthwhile.
The Killing II
Saturday, BBC 4, 9pm
The Last Explorers
Thursday, BBC1, 9pm
Living With The Amish
Thursday, Channel 4, 9pm