The two Scottish police procedurals are premiering new seasons on BritBox, one of the few streaming platforms (along with rival Acorn) to focus almost exclusively on UK TV series.
Now in its eighth season, “Shetland” is a proven winner. Adapted from Ann Cleeves’ novels, the visuals create a thematically cohesive backdrop with cloudy skies and conspicuously treeless, stormy seaside landscapes. The other main attraction of the series has long been Douglas Henshall as the peacock-clad Detective Inspector Jimmy Pérez, whose battered dignity is undermined by his persistent discomfort with everything, including the job at hand. This tension kept things interesting for seven seasons. And it meant that the series didn’t have to rely entirely on the traumatic back story of his dead wife (a trope that she probably had to die for) to give the character some dimension.
But it’s time to say goodbye to Jimmy and that peacoat. Henshall was ready to leave the series and was removed from the cast at the end of last season. His replacement provides “Shetland” with a reset of sorts, while retaining the small community and much of what makes the show work.
Ashley Jensen (star of the fairly light-hearted crime-solving series “Agatha Raisin”) joins the cast as Detective Inspector Ruth Calder. She’s a Shetland native who left the town when she was 18, but has now reluctantly returned, following the case of a young woman who may have been involved in a murder and has since fled to her childhood home in – you guessed it – Shetland.
“Have you been here long?” someone asks. “Let’s hope not,” comes Ruth’s curt response. Younger and more talkative Detective Sergeant Alison “Tosh” McIntoch (Alison O’Donnell) points out the picturesque landscape as she drives towards the scene of the crime. Ruth stops him. “I was born here” and he is talking about a specific region. “It’s beautiful from that side,” says Tosh.
“If you like being gloomy,” Ruth ends the conversation.
The series arguably promotes romanticized notions of Scotland. But they are effective. Give me a windy setting and some run-of-the-mill detectives scowling and solving a mystery without needing any weapons, and we’re halfway there.
Were you surprised by Ruth’s estrangement from her family? Or does he immediately fall into bed with his old flame? What about the same guy (played by Jamie Sives from Masterpiece Mystery) “Annika”) was somehow involved in the case Ruth was investigating?
The series is structured as a seasonal mystery, and this time the theme is family secrets. Everyone knows everyone else and views their neighbors with suspicion. Don’t turn over a rock unless you’re prepared for what you might find underneath.
There’s some of that gothic ambiance running through you “Crime” Albeit in the more cosmopolitan setting of Edinburgh (it returns for a second season). Detective Inspector Ray Lennox (Dougray Scott) is a recovering addict who returns to work after a relapse. He has a sad-eyed and haggard middle-aged face and unexpectedly vibrant hair. He’s the kind of guy who stands with his arms at his sides, fists clenched. He’s literally been plagued with white fingers his whole life. When he returns to work, people look at him intently. He’ll still have to prove he’s ready for the job.
The clichés don’t end there. Dumped by his girlfriend, the man shrugs at his therapist: “Police.” Relationships. “It suits the area.” you don’t expect that any Will the relationship last, he asks? He laughs with regret. “The only permanent thing for me is work.”
“Crime” comes from novelist Irvine Welsh (“Trainspotting”), and while his signature nastiness gives the show an edge, I’m not sure it really works. A transgender professor named Lauren Fairchild (Rebecca Root) has an assault to investigate. Twisting? She was Ray’s partner and mentor of sorts before he left the job and transitioned 10 years ago. Although Ray takes this seriously, the same cannot be said for some of his colleagues; This includes his boss, who keeps mentioning his name. As it should be, Ray’s sister has a teenage son who is questioning his gender identity, and the family is far from supportive of the child (except for brief murmurs of approval from Ray).
It’s not a problem for the story that people are bigoted, especially on the police force. This is real. But it’s portrayed in a clunky, backwards way, as if the script had been pulled out of a drawer where it had been buried for the last 40 years.
When the boss announces his retirement, he tells Ray to apply for the job. After all, one of the fewer coworkers has already done this. Good for him, Ray says. “He is a manipulative, racist, misogynistic, misanthropic, alcoholic with a short fuse!” His boss says he’s fed up.
“So he’s a strong candidate,” Ray said flatly.
The rhythms of this change are perfect. But the ideas behind this – of men who wrongly believe they are too powerless to do more than shrug their shoulders – are not examined. This is the real crime of this series.
“Shetland” Season 8 — 3 stars (out of four)
“Crime” Season 2 – 2 stars (out of four)
Where to watch: BritBox
Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.