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.