Saturday, November 14, 2009

Netflix Friday #3: WIRE IN THE BLOOD S1-S3

Robson Green. After a run on the early 90's British hit Soldier, Soldier -- widely considered one of the best television shows about serving in the armed forces ever made* -- Green was on the dreamboat track. His recording of "Unchained Melody" was the best selling single in Britain in '95.

He forms his own production company in '02 to leverage his fame, and what does he do? Wire in the Blood. It's as if just-post ER Clooney signed on to play Cracker, and out-Coltraned Coltrane.

Based on a series of very fine novels by Val McDermid, the series follows Green as psychiatrist Dr. Tony Hill, dragooned into helping the police catch killers by DCI Carol Jordan (Hermione Norris). Now, in the ordinary TV-land version he'd be quirky, she'd be adorably spiky -- it's Castle with psychobabble! Wheee!**

But no -- Hill's an unlikable obsessive who walks with a pre-occupied waddle, carries a battered blue plastic shopping bag as his briefcase, and has some serious sexual issues. Over the course of six seasons, his will is utterly broken by the abominations he witnesses. In the 2008 TV movie Prayer to the Bone, a suspect whom Hill believes has PTSD snaps at him: "Maybe you have PTSD." Hill considers for a moment and honestly answers: "Yes, I probably do."

Hill doesn't just catch killers -- he then often treats them. His sympathy never comes across as a TV technique of showing how sensitive he is; instead, it's a natural outgrowth of his obsessive need to understand and his basic humanity.

Some episodes do descend into high pulp (or, rather, ascend). But over the course of six seasons there are damn few clunkers, plenty of very dark moments and some great, twisty, fucked-up mysteries.

If there are six seasons, why do I only recommend S1-S3? Because if you watch all six you'll enjoy them, but those first three seasons are where you get to watch Hermione Norris break your goddam heart. No offense to her replacement, Simone Lahbib, but watching Green and Norris slowly circle in on a strangely noble co-dependency is just great, gut-level storytelling. I have had friends who wanted to quit writing after watching those first three seasons. (right, Kevin?)

Apparently, there is an American adaptation of this show being made right now. If they have the guts to do the same plotline in the pilot as Wire, I will buy every human involved a bottle of 21 yr old Macallan. Because, seriously -- yikes.

If you enjoy this selection, you can hunt down (non-streaming) Green's other series Touching Evil, the American version of which launched Jeffrey Donovan into leading man status in the TV casting club. Similar "broken leading man" conceit, lots of dark turns, and arguably the more consistent show. But for my money, Hermione Norris puts Wire over the top.







* I saw seasons 1 and 2 on bootlegs, back in the day. Great stuff.
** Full disclosure: I like Castle a lot. Perhaps too much.

41 comments:

Bardic Lady said...

Thrilled to know you like Castle. What did you think of their con episode? I thought it was excellent as a one off, but Leverage is higher quality and more consistent.

Lydia said...

Well, I do like Tony, though he's socially maladjusted as all hell. And I miss Carol terribly. I was getting frustrated with the direction they'd taken her character by the end of her run, though. I felt that her competence as a cop was being downplayed to show off Tony's talents, and that it had become basically The Tony Hill Show. That said, if she came back, I would pick the show back up in a heartbeat.

Kevin Church said...

Now that I've actually plotted out She Died In Terrebonne (thanks to a publisher saying HEY THIS LOOKS NICE LET US KNOW HOW IT ENDS OK AND MAYBE WE WILL PRINT IT?), I plan on returning to Wire In The Blood but it seriously, seriously, seriously makes me hate every word I type after writing it. So beautifully minimal and I was just chatting it up tonight to someone and hit on some of the same points: Tony Hill is genuinely unlikeable but compelling as hell, like John Constantine.

If there's an American version, it's going to make L+O Happy Rape Squad Zero look like How I Met Your Mother.

kimshum said...

Christ, a Life reference in the last post and now you love Castle. You're my new favorite human being.

Castle is fantastic - one of the few network shows that doesn't fail at characterizing women. I'd like to buy every human involved a bottle of 21 yr old Macallan, but I'm just an asst, so.

Gordon said...

I think I want to have your babies. Wire in the Blood is beyond outstanding, and is Robson Green at his apex. It's an amazing show, and I completely agree with your assessment of Seasons 1-3, as much as I like the later ones with the second partner. Hermione Norris is one of a kind.

Of course, if you want to see her at her brittle best, Spooks (MI-5 here in the US) Series 5-8 include her as operative Ros Myers. She is spectacular, particularly in Series 7, where they've finally dispatched her bland first partner and added the electric Richard Armitage as Lucas North, an agent released after nearly 10 years of captivity in Russia (think Clooney in the making.) Spectacular stuff.

The US and UK versions of Touching Evil are both pretty good as well, and the Robson Green's UK partner, Nicola Walker, is in Spooks as well.

As for Castle, it should be illegal to enjoy that show as much as I do. If they were to bottle the charm and chemistry on that show, they'd make an absolute bloody fortune.

Doctor Who day tomorrow!!

Gordon said...

BTW, if you want to see Hermione Norris in an utterly different light, dig up an old British TV movie called "The Pale Horse." A&E showed it back in the day, and it was a hoot. It's a one-off Agatha Christie featuring a character called Mark Esterhaus. It was originally set in the 1930s if I remember correctly, but the film shifts it to the swinging 60s. Norris plays Esterhaus' wanna be girlfriend and is hilarious! You'll never hear the word virtue in the same way again. It also features Andy Serkis as a Harry Palmer styled detective sergeant. Good stuff.

Tara said...

I absolutely ADORE the first 3 series of Wire In The Blood, and think Hermione Norris is extraordinary as Carol Jordan. It's an amazing character, and one I wonder we'd ever see on American telly. I love Beckett on Castle, but Carol is so commanding and awesome and IN CHARGE, and there's never a second you do not believe she has the respect of every single copper in Bradford. All without giving up her femininity (or sex life).

Also, I love that after a decade of getting his kit off in mostly softcore stuff, Robson Green chose to play an undiagnosed aspie who is the universe's least likely heartthrob. It's a great character, and he's fantastic in the part.

Weirdly, as much as I loved Touching Evil (and I do, because Nicola Walker as Susan Taylor was AMAZING), I thought the American Touching Evil was at times better. For one, Donovan's Creegan was incredibly accurate portrayal of traumatic brain injury. For another, the way they adapted Abbott's and particularly Russel T Davies plots made them better stories with one exception--I bought Green's Creegan and Annie Jordan much more than Donovan's Creegan with the Eastern European girl.

(Also? OMG RIVERS. OMG.)

Between Touching Evil and State of Play, I want to have Paul Abbott's BABIEZ. Or possibly eat his brain. I can't decide.

marga templeton said...

i am heartened to know i am not the only one who felt the emotional break between seasons 3 and 4 of 'wire in the blood'. i am also glad that others enjoyed both the uk and us versions of 'touching evil'. there's just something in the way the british put on criminal/police procedural programs that no one else can touch... (cracker, a touch of frost, spooks/mi5, waking the dead... )

Scot Boyd said...

I talk about Wire in the Blood whenever someone brings up Criminal Minds. It just works on every level, better than the best US shows.

If you want to see Hermione Norris play opposite Stephen Fry, add Kingdom to your Netflix queue. (She didn't really do it for me in that show, but YMMV).

Mitchy said...

Gotta second the suggestion to check out Hermione Norris in Spooks. She's really brought a much needed edge to the show, in terms of the female characters. Good stuff. Proof that the BBC does still know what it's doing now and again :)

Rogers said...

Donovan's Creegan's opposite number was, oddly enogh, Vera Famiglia before she broke big.

Good Dog said...

If you're up for UK originals, watch the six-part Edge of Darkness, which has just turned up on DVD in the US. That should really bowl you over.

John said...

Once again, Rogers comes through with something I can pop on Netflix streaming the second after I read about it.

Is the "want to quit writing" quotient as high as it was with Jekyll? Because, seriously, I couldn't get down a word for a while after watching that.

kimshum said...

Also, coincidentally, starting today Best Buy has the Castle season 1 DVD set on sale for $17.49. Through the 21st.

Rogers mentions it and it goes on sale. Neat trick, that.

Tara said...

Rogers: And Sebastian Roché was her ex--which made his Laney very different from Jimmy Nesbitt's.

Lee Goldberg said...

I've only seen the first seasons of WIRE IN THE BLOOD and TOUCHING EVIL. You've reminded me that I need to catch up. I've also got DVDs of the series VINCENT, BODIES, CALLAN, MESSIAH, and THE VICE (as well as THE RED RIDING TRILOGY) to watch yet, too.

You have to catch THE FIXER. It's more pulpy than the two Robson Green shows, but it's also a lot less dark. It's about a conflicted hit man working for the police (or is it?). I haven't seen season two yet, but I really enjoyed season one. It's from Kudos, the same studio responsible for LIFE ON MARS, SPOOKS, and HUSTLE.

Lee

Gordon said...

@ Rogers: Donovan's Creegan's opposite number was, oddly enogh, Vera Famiglia before she broke big.

Just because I'm a fan of her work may I, with respect, note it's Vera Farmiga? She was great, very much Nicola Walker's equal.

I keep waiting for USA to dig that show back up and release it on DVD at long last.

Emily said...

Goddamn/bless you Rogers!

I didn't need a new TV obsession. Though I did need something to replace Fringe and FlashForward.

I guess it's a wash.

Anonymous said...

Lee Goldberg said:
You have to catch THE FIXER. It's more pulpy than the two Robson Green shows, but it's also a lot less dark. It's about a conflicted hit man working for the police (or is it?). I haven't seen season two yet, but I really enjoyed season one. It's from Kudos, the same studio responsible for LIFE ON MARS, SPOOKS, and HUSTLE.

The Fixer season 2 is even better than season 1. It stars the wonderful Andrew Buchan, currently staring in Garrow's Law on the BBC. That's another show well worth watching - if you can get it.

Anonymous said...

I've heard of "kids" wanting to be Batman and "kids" injuring themselves experimenting doing the break-dance moves..it scares me that anyone (even kids) would, in this day and age, want "to do" what Parker *does* - which is actually (without stating the obvious)NOTHING?
I heard a Vegas Radio Show in which a 16 year old boy asks Kane about his skills in fighting, to which Mr Kane replies that everyone should go through life without having to ever throw a punch! But you do LEARN to cook by cooking, you do LEARN to sing by singing and you do LEARN to fight by fighting (Bruce Lee?)- Mr Kane has scars to prove that point.That scar on his upper lip was when someone went right, when they should have gone left(Second Hand Lions).
Anyway my point, I find it strange and frightening to want to rappel down tall buildings to be a THIEF-LIKE Parker? IF you take away this aspect from Beth at any point, she'd have nothing but dialog/lines to say.
Please don't *ruin* the FUN of just watching the caper unfold on Leverage..lighten up:)

Anonymous said...

I found _Wire in the Blood_ and loved it, and I agree that although the latter seasons are great, the chemistry with Norris (and the characters) was phenomenal. In fact, some of the best scenes were times that they were working on figuring out the psychopathy of the bad guy while also having personal chemistry and it was just CREEPY. I always think of that when people are talking about chemistry and will they/won't they one shows.

Also this was my first exposure to Robson Green...so the thought of him as someone on a show where he "gets his kit off" is just bizarre to me, because I have him set as "intense psychological" character guy.

GinaFan said...

Re: Lost Heir
When Parker's on the grift, the fun is in anticipating when her ability to interact with humans will break down.

Absolutely. :)

I remember, however, listening to someone (Tarantino maybe) comment about how they appreciated a particular writer (Chandler maybe) because the story didn't just go as expected. There would be a guy trying to flee in a get-away car, and the keys that were supposed to be in it weren't there. Now what does he do?

That was what was poking me about the moment with Parker. Her difficulty ordering people around was consistent with her character, but really glaring. It just went by unnoticed. That could be a good opportunity for something to not-go-as-planned. That's how my luck would be. :) One of the people could have caught on, and asked for identification, and Elliot would have had to cover for her and be more convincing. Afterward, he could grumble a bit to Parker about being more careful. You get to suspend disbelief a little better, and have a character moment.

GinaFan said...

Really OT.

Have you ever eaten at a total dive of a Mexican restaurant? If so, you may enjoy this colorful review. A friend and I intended to see this place on Monday, but it was closed. Luckily there are two other places just like it within a mile of each other. I read the review after dinner, and nearly cried. :)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2000/06/24/AR2005062901765.html

GinaFan said...

Really OT.

Have you ever eaten at a total dive of a Mexican restaurant? If so, you may enjoy this colorful review. A friend and I intended to see this place on Monday, but it was closed. Luckily there are two other places just like it within a mile of each other. I read the review after dinner, and nearly cried. :)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2000/06/24/AR2005062901765.html

Anonymous said...

GinaFan said.
One of the people could have caught on, and asked for identification, and Elliot would have had to cover for her and be more convincing. Afterward, he could grumble a bit to Parker about being more careful. You get to suspend disbelief a little better, and have a character moment.
As far as I've noticed, the mix of "telling-off" or "correcting" the other(s) flaws have been well-balanced in every episode from S1 to S2:) There's no *pattern" to it.
I enjoy it best at times when Nate does it like in The Nigerian Job, Nate goes "..haircuts Parker..count the haircuts?!" And Parker mutters under her breath "..I would have missed that!" What?...Nothing!! Another time The Top Hat Job recon gone wrong- Nate has a go at Alec, "..how about YOU SHARE that "crucial" information with us?" It's Nate's way of reining in what he knows to be the "character weakness" of his team members?;D
In TNJ again Eliot can't figure out Parker's logic that not getting paid was "more personal" to her than being killed - Eliot says "..there's something wrong with you!"
The character development I really liked was like Parker tearing up in The Stork Job..really bad memories of childhood? Mysterious Eliot - from the TTDotH-Parker asks "Are you a member of the Council? Nate just shakes his head,shrugs and walks away! Also in the BTBJ Alec cracks into government files during their 6 months "break?" Sophie sharpens her grifter skills acting in stage plays?
IS it true everyone is coming together by January for the start of S3?

mrmike said...

Everyone else has gushed appropriately about Hermione Norris so I'll just add a +1 and mostly leave it at that. She does, however, personify what to me makes British TV so much better than American TV. She's tough but not butch, sexy but not "hot", cool but not icy. In other words, she can play shades of grey. A lot of that is the actor but there's also a healthy dose of the director just getting out of the way of the performance and/or pushing the actor to find the nuance.

Kim said...

I have a friend who ADORES Robson Green; she's the one who got me to watch Wire In The Blood. At first, I was skeptical, but then it really grew on me and I ended up loving it.

GinaFan said...

Thinking about it some more. One can't bust on every moment, or we'd never get to just enjoy her quirkyness.

Once in a while, though, it should blow up in her face a little. Like in this case, she would get in hot water, and overcompensate.

In the next con. She would then be mute, and let Elliot do all the talking, and just watch and listen to how he does it, and maybe mimic him under her breath.

Then, in the con after that, she could get it right and get a little pat on the head. :)

Mike Cane said...

>>>Full disclosure: I like Castle a lot. Perhaps too much.

Heh-heh. Join the club.

Nathan Fillion is, I think, the Cary Grant of the 21st century.

znachki said...

Add me to the list of those who love WitB. I had heard that there was a US version in the works, but if they don't take Tony down to the basement in the first episode, I don't think I'll be back.

Second all the suggestions that folks made about all the other UK series - Spooks, Waking the Dead, The Fixer, Touching Evil, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes (it gets better in Series 2), and etc. I've gotten to the point that I'd much rather watch and rewatch the UK shows, than most of the shows on US TV. Obviously Leverage is in the watch column.

And Castle? Well, I'd follow Captin Tightpants anywhere, but it sure is a fun show.

Anonymous said...

In the next con. She would then be mute, and let Elliot do all the talking, and just watch and listen to how he does it, and maybe mimic him under her breath.
GinaFan..the above seems like a "good story" to create for Beth/Parker..but she's supposedly "insane?" Also, how many times can such a scenario be repeated without being irritating?;)
I watched The Juror and the opening scene sees Parker close to hysterics ("...what? Did it decapitate you..!!") Parker WAS SHRILL there,cos' everyone was up against her(most probably) doing her "own thing", something that endangered the rest of the team? Hardison looks at the tape and comments that yes,something dangerous almost happened - because of Parker! Whatever it was, it scared Eliot enough to ask Sophie to give Parker some "strong talk" on team-work?!
Of course in The Top Hat Job Parker says she's glad about not dealing with the "real-world"- that for her meaning "office politics lol! Then there's The Mile High Job where Parker *comforts* the nervous passenger with the many *other ways* one can die - other than in a plane crash.
Parker's "insane" moments lie in all of these instances,I think:) Nate,Eliot and the rest "not understanding Parker" makes for the character's difference.
Did you (re)watch The Ice Man Job? Parker's on a roll clearing those bewildered lab people AFTER Eliot had said the main piece, Parker was gleeful she could ADD to it!

Anonymous said...

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone here..I'm not celebrating it, but anyhoo! I must be suffering withdrawal symptoms from not having my "new" Leverage fix O_+- I've watched and rewatched all the episodes until I know all the dialogue of every character, before they say it. Still loads of fun in it though;D
Please excuse, me but I just feel I've this (stoopid?) suggestion to get of my mind O_O. Could every member of the Leverage team be in the closing(frame)scene at EVERY ending of an episode? There's been quite a few episodes that's ended with just 2 - usually Nate and Sophie sharing a quiet moment,the others just move away,too soon:( It'll be great if you have some, what you call it - "signature closing?" before the credits? The con was a team-effort, why can't it credit every actor in the ending?:)

Anna said...

I loved Wire in the Blood until Hermione Norris left. She and Robson Green had an almost palpable chemistry.

The show as all sorts of wonderful gritty. Then Carol had to go off to Africa. Ugh.

Tulse said...

Thankyouthankyouthankyou! Wire in the Blood is truly a gem, and I am delighted to have taken your recommendation! Brilliant show, especially Series 1-3 -- Hermione Norris rocks the fuckin' house (now I have to start watching Spooks) and Robson Green is...well...hell, I don't have words.

Fantastic suggestion. Thankyouthankyouthankyou!

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