As police procedurals go, “Annika” is one of Masterpiece Mystery’s best offerings. That’s thanks to British actress Nicola Walker, whose credits range from “Last Tango in Halifax” to “Divided” and “Unforgotten.” No matter the role, he brings an uneasy intelligence to his characters.
As Detective Inspector Annika Strandhed, she is head of the Glasgow Maritime Homicide Unit; It’s a part that seems entirely fictional, but it’s a role perfectly suited to Walker’s talents (a role he created for a BBC radio drama before being adapted for television). . With his ministry-issued speedboat, cynical outlook on life, and expertise in his job, he still struggles with the suspicion that he is disappointing everyone around him. He is socially awkward, has a distinctive rhythm to his speaking style – pausing where you wouldn’t expect it – and a dry sense of humor that compensates for his personal flaws. Life is ridiculous; he is no exception.
At one point, he connects with his team via Zoom. “Is my phone connected to the screen?” he asks. It must be so, someone says. What happens next is a trope updated for our age of cell phones and videoconferencing: She tries to pull up a particular image that contains a clue, but instead she keeps clicking personal photos, including selfies taken with the man she’s currently sleeping with. “Oh no. Okay, bear with me. Moving on.” As you scroll through her photos, no one plays embarrassment better than Walker. “Yes, this is my boat. And it’s an octopus.”
It shouldn’t work this well, but Walker knows how to play the self-aware discomfort for laughs. Annika has a habit of breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the camera (this is courtesy of the show’s creator, Nick Walker), and rambles on about literary references that serve as a metaphor for what’s going on in the moment.
For example, when the team is called to the Scottish island of Jura, it is a place so remote that George Orwell once described it as “unreachable”. It’s also where he wrote “1984.” Annika has some thoughts on this. “So before George Orwell wrote ‘1984’, he left the safety of his life in the UK to fight against tyranny abroad. It’s unclear whether he parachuted into Spain, but I won’t forget him. And while he was there, he contracted tuberculosis, suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, and his own citizens mocked his posh accent. But when he decided to write about horror — and I mean real, heart-stopping, stone-cold horror — he chose this place. So it’s not a concern at all.”
There’s a contemplative, conspiratorial quality to these moments, delivered with a comical, semi-distracted, straight-faced energy: “You see that too, don’t you? No one does this here but You understand.” But sometimes he can only manage momentary eye contact with the camera and suppress the uncomfortable emotions he feels.
Following a case-of-the-week structure of serialized elements, Annika’s semi-estranged father visits late in the season and throws everything into turmoil. He is also keeping a secret about the one-night stand that resulted in his now teenage daughter. She ends up sharing this information in the most clumsy way possible, which further adds to her low-level but persistent embarrassment. Forever disappointing everyone!
The series has a tendency to overcook its finales. Last season, Annika was kidnapped, locked in the trunk of her car, and nearly blown up. It is his daughter who is kidnapped this season. The series doesn’t need such dramatic stakes or season-ending cliffhangers to stay interesting (no word on a renewal yet).
But at least he’s not one of the detectives subjected to the torture of the job. Human interactions baffle him, yes. But who isn’t?
Someone asks are you going to be okay? “I mean, that’s a huge question,” he says. Real the It’s a question we all face every day. This is where “Annika,” with its dreamy theme music and clamorous atmosphere, finds bleak, human comedy.
“Annika” Season 2 — 3 stars (out of 4)
Where to watch: on PBS at 9 p.m.
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.