Brian Donaldson finds the BBC spinning various tales of conspiracy to differing effect
When it comes to making new TV dramas, being brave and original can either make or break the show. Sometimes just playing it straight off the bat and keeping things safe can help your programme reap the rewards. Two hot and hyped BBC affairs go for the ‘brave’ option with one flying to unusually excellent heights, the other falling flat on its over-ambitious behind.
The thumbs-up goes to Criminal Justice (BBC1, Thu 3 & Fri 4 Jul, 9pm ••••), a nightly five-part drama (see, already breaking new ground) in which a decent enough lad finds himself being arrested and subsequently refused bail for the murder of a young girl. At first glance, it certainly doesn’t look good for him. Ben Coulter (played with beautifully pitched bewilderment by Ben Whishaw, who you may remember being frequently tormented by the eponymous media muppet in Nathan Barley) has awoken beside a girl he met earlier that night having inadvertently picked her up in his dad’s taxi. The blood on his hands may not just be from the game of vodka-fuelled Russian roulette they played at her dad’s place, but from a mighty stab wound that has killed her in bed.
Through an unfortunate series of events, Ben is arrested and taken in for questioning where he meets a sympathetic but determined cop, Harry Box (Bill Patterson) and an oddball brief, Ralph Stone (Con O’Neill). While not exactly a brutish Vic Mackey character, Box is still frustrated by the shackles placed on modern policing through rules, regulations and mounds of paperwork while Stone soon becomes the sanest looking person in the criminal system.
Written by Peter Moffat (Hawking, Cambridge Spies), the opening episode in particular hardly wastes a frame as Ben’s nightmare unravels before him, as we are taken on a journey through the justice system, a heaving barrel of rotting morals and a maelstrom of confusion for anyone miserable enough to be caught up in its murky process. Of course, given that this series is so refreshing, Ben may ultimately prove to be guilty as sin and the torment he has suffered will be wholly justified, but the point seems to be that being innocent til proven otherwise doesn’t prevent you from going through a horrendous ordeal.
Which is not half a bad description you could attach to the process of watching Bonekickers (BBC1, Tue 7 Jul, 9pm ••), an archaeological drama brought to us by the makers of Life on Mars, as though that instantly means this will be anything other than tosh. It’s actually got more in common with Cold Case and has a swashbuckling finale which is the kind of thing that would have been left on the cutting-room floor in the Chamber of Secrets. Julie Graham (her character is tough but brilliant), Hugh Bonneville (his is marginally sleazy but wildly encyclopaedic) and Adrian Lester (modern, humane) play a core team of excavating detectives who, in the daft opener, may have stumbled upon a biblical find of epic proportions which is being hunted down by fundamentalist Christians on a holy war against the Muslim community. Aside from the pitifully obvious denouement when good versus evil clashes amid flame and fury, there is one moment of jaw-dropping violence that is as obscene as it is gratuitous.
In Conspiracy Files: The Third Tower (BBC2, Sun 6 Jul, 9pm •••) there are two definitions of obscene. One comes from the fans of Loose Change, the internet documentary which pointed the finger at the US administration for, perhaps not directly co-ordinating 9/11, but at least making it easier for the soldiers of Bin Laden to cause merry hell in Manhattan. The others are those who just want all the conspiracy theorists to take their goofy notions and hide in a room playing endless loops of the Zapruder film.
Thing is they simply won’t disappear while there are still so many questions unanswered. In this documentary, the focus is on WTC7, the third tower that fell that day, which wasn’t hit by a plane, but still collapsed seven hours later as though via controlled explosions. Considering this building was largely home to US government agencies and state officials, was there something in there that needed to be destroyed without trace? Get the bonekickers on the case and it will all be neatly solved in an hour.