Shetland. I ask you. What a mind-numbingly boring and unimaginative title for a drama. It would be dull enough if the subject matter were a pony or a pullover, but naming a police procedural after its location is beyond lazy.
My guess is that the show was sold on the promise of its scenery, appealing to viewers who enjoy a bit of countryside with their killing. And indeed, Shetland serves up swirling mists, emerald hills and slate-grey seas at every opportunity, invariably accompanied by a haunting pipe and an indigenous folk soundtrack. Which is all very atmospheric, but there are times when the travelogue threatens to overwhelm the drama.
Douglas Henshall stars as detective Jimmy Perez, a native Shetlander who has returned home after a long spell on the mainland, believing the isles to be a safe and nurturing environment in which to raise his teenage stepdaughter.
Which shows how little he knows. The opening credits are barely over before an elderly woman is being shot in her bothy, so to speak.
Mix in feuding families, an archaeological dig, the discovery of human remains – which are either 500 or 70 years old – some simmering sexual jealousy and the reopened wounds of a wartime betrayal, and pretty soon dey hae a reffelled hesp ta redd,* as they say in the Shetlands.
Douglas Henshall’s character returns to the Shetlands, believing the isles to be a safe environment in which to raise his stepdaughter. The opening credits are barely over before an elderly woman is being shot in her bothy
The drama is well made, well acted and eminently watchable, but disappointingly formulaic in its approach. It also features one of those moments of daftness that thrillers often depend upon to keep the contrivances of their plotline turning over. Shetland’s occurs when a character suddenly realises the vital significance of a clue, but waits until she is halfway up a hillside, far from a mobile phone signal – flagged up earlier in the episode – before she tries to alert the police. Next morning, wouldn’t you know it, she is found dead.
But where Shetland does find originality is in its characterisation. Complex but not over complicated, believable without being boring, Perez provides a strong centre around which the other characters can revolve, his quirky relationship with police partner ‘Tosh’ (Alison O’Donnell) particularly enjoyable. By turns her straight man, mentor, big brother, boss and confidante, Perez reveals a softer, warmer side in Tosh’s company, lending the series some much-needed light relief amid all the doom, gloom and scenery.
Bluestone 42 is a comedy about an army bomb disposal unit in Afghanistan – so full marks all round for originality. The script and cast also merit a mention in dispatches for successfully and consistently mining laughs from such an inhospitable comic landscape. The show balances sharp one-liners with knockabout vulgarity to impressive effect, and deserves to win a large audience.
So far, gritty authenticity hasn’t featured hugely on the show’s agenda. In tone, it is far nearer It Ain’t Half Hot Mum than The Hurt Locker, with moments that make soldiering in the Helmand province look like a Club 18-30 holiday – albeit with firefights and no swimming pool.
However, the very subject matter would suggest that Death and his sidekick Debilitating Injury are waiting in the wings to make an appearance, and it will be fascinating to see how Bluestone 42 copes with manoeuvres into comedy’s dark side.
*They have a complicated situation to deal with.
Shetland, BBC1, Sunday, March 10 and Monday, March 11, 9pm
Bluestone 42, BBC3, Tuesday, March 12, 10pm