Catch up TV reviews: Suspects, Borderline, Wynonna Earp
Ivan Radford | On 07, Aug 2016
(For BBC TV reviews and round-ups, see our weekly Best of BBC iPlayer column. Or for reviews of the shows on All 4’s Walter Presents, click here.)
It’s all too easy, sometimes, to dismiss Channel 5 , but with Wynonna Earp, Suspects and Borderline all on the broadcaster’s catch-up books at the moment, its output has never been more diverse. We take a look at each.
Channel 5 isn’t known for its dramas, and for simple reason: it doesn’t really commission them. With one exception: Suspects, its only original British drama, which has a neat USP: it’s all improvised.
Five seasons in and you’d expect the cast to have exhausted all the possibilities the format offers, but the programme smartly switches up talent for the start of this new run. Fan favourites Jack (Damien Molony) and Charlie (Claire-Hope Ashley) return, but with Fay Ripley busy with ITV’s Cold Feet reunion, DI Martha is promptly bumped off – the opening sees her discovered shot dead in her bed. Her husband’s even dispatched, for good measure.
And so the new guys enter to help crack the case: Lenora Crichlow as DS Alisha Brooks and Perry Fitzpatrick as TDC Gary Roscoe. Best of all, though, is Cucumber’s James Murray, who slips seamlessly into the senior role of DCI Daniel Drummond.
That shot of fresh blood seems to bump the quality up from Season 4, while story writer Steve Bailie (of Deutschland 83) adeptly balances the new with old faces from Jack’s post – namely, former flame Rose (a wonderfully slinky Karen Hassan), a waitress at a bar run by a dodgy sort (an equally slippery Neil Stuke).
The dialogue doesn’t shy away from feeling made up on the spot, but rather than cheapen the set-up, it makes these people seem even more untrustworthy, as they never seem to be confidently telling the truth. Molony, meanwhile, is a seasoned veteran at playing the increasingly unreliable Jack, and Murray matches him as Drummond, who has more going on than you might think.
With BBC Three’s Murder in Successville taking a similar idea and milking it for laughs, there’s a lot to be said for Suspects’ ability to keep things convincing and – thanks to the cast and a deceptively complex plot that aims for more than your generic case-of-the-week – compelling to boot. Channel 5 isn’t known for its drama, but with Season 5 of Suspects starting in such strong manner, this series certainly deserves a reputation.
Building, perhaps, on the success of Suspects, Channel 5 is also taking its first steps into commissioning original comedy too. And Borderline couldn’t be more ambitious. The mockumentary looks, on the surface, like a clone of The Office, but this fly-on-the-wall satire (set in the fictional Northend airport) flies straight into one of the UK’s most topical and divisive issues: immigration.
We follow the UK Border Force at the airport, with staff ordered by the Home Office to crack down on things that are “out of the ordinary”. What ensues is a jumble of inept screw-ups, as they try to navigate the boundary between being alert and straight-up racial profiling.
Drug smuggling, DJs and token dimwits are present and correct, with Jackie Clune as lonely boss Linda gamely playing the fool for maximum cringe-humour. A stereotypical Scot (Grant – Jamie Michie) brings unsubtle giggles, while Liz Kingsman (aptly a veteran of Channel 4’s not dissimilar Ballot Monkeys) steals the show as well-meaning employee Andy, who comes up with a laugh-out-loud solution to daily boredom.
But it’s the underlying prejudices that the script taps into that makes this workplace comedy work. “Oh, come on,” says Grant, as he has to stamp the passport of a sheikh in full customary dress, unsure whether to wave him through without issue or grill him on the spot. Linda trying the same thing with a Norwegian is just as awkward. And then, of course, there’s the non-Muslim who pretends to be Muslim so he’s accepted.
Borderline is not perfect and far from even, but these are the kind of relatable and/or pertinent situations that occur increasingly in a post-Brexit world. Kudos to Channel 5 for attempting to tackle them. The result is as hit-and-miss as the recent BBC sketch show Brexageddon, but there’s more substance here.
Wynonna Earp (My5)
Can you say Buffy the Vampire Slayer? The creators of this Canadian adaptation of Beau Smith’s comic book clearly can. Wynonna Earp follows the titular descendent of the legendary gunslinger, Wyatt, who returns to her hometown of Purgatory, where the outlaws her granddad bumped off are coming back to life.
Zombies, historical fantasy, Westerns and Canada? It’s hard not to enjoy a show that throws them all into the mix, as Wynonna shoots around town on a motorbike, wielding Earp’s gun, Peacemaker, and dispatching the “revenants” back to hell. The mythology of the story isn’t entirely clear – the bad guys spend a lot of time chatting about how they’re going to take over the world/find freedom/kill that pesky, meddling Earp girl, but despite there apparently being a large number of them already on this side of the grave, they don’t do much attacking. Wynonna, meanwhile, needs an amulet to protect the home of her and her sister, Waverly (Provost-Chalkley), from supernatural trespassers and can only execute them proper if she’s using grandaddy’s magic pistol. Just how strong is she without these objects? And what exactly is the curse on her family? And how does government Agent Xavier (Shamier Anderson) fit into this?
What we need, perhaps, is a Giles-like figure to explain things to us. What we get, though, is still intriguing on its own terms, from a damsel-in-distress-subverting opening, which introducers our kick-ass leading lady, to the kind of cheesy special effects that endear rather than amaze (Doctor Who fans will feel right at home). Melanie Scrofano is charmingly sarcastic in the lead, while she and Dominique Provost-Chalkley have an entertaining sisterly chemistry that sets this apart from your typical genre show. There’s even an untrustworthy man with a moustache. And, of course, lots of hats. What’s not to like?
In a crowded TV landscape, where shows such as iZombie are already bringing new blood to the undead and Preacher is nailing theologically-minded Westerns, though, “like” isn’t necessarily good enough. Will Wynonna ever be able to move out of Buffy’s shadow? It’s hard to say (although its renewal for a second season suggests someone has confidence in the series’ potential). What is certain, though, is that you want it to. And that’s half the battle.