Unforgotten TELEVISION REVIEW

CAPSULE COMMENT: If there is one thing the British do better than anyone else it is the detective procedural. They have been doing it since forever and they are constantly re-evaluating the format, never too proud to adapt innovative new narrative techniques from outsiders like the Scandinavians. The people at work in the heart of these dramas range from the elderly amateur sleuth (Miss Marple) through to the deranged (River), solid and reliable (Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez in Shetland or Inspector Morse) and the existentially challenged like Wallander. Unforgotten is a wonderful addition to this cannon and DCI Cassie Stuart, while without the eccentricities and foibles that hallmark many of the star characters of this genre, is a beautifully heroic if understated figure dedicated to service and integrity. That aside, this is a nicely made series about a police unit that specialises in historical murder cases. Tight, taut and full of surprises, it is emotionally satisfying and discerning with it.

 

DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) heads a special police unit that specialises in historical murders: bodies that have turned up decades after the events with barely a clue and in sparse skeletal detail. Her team have their work cut out for them but they are up for it. She is a steady head, focused and compassionate, a reliable leader and intuitive investigator.

She is the type you would follow into battle or lay your life on the line for because she is warm, encouraging and fearless. But she is more than just a detective, she is a broad thinker and is all too aware of the emotional minefield she is walking as loved ones of the deceased are discovered and bandages are ripped from old wounds. DCI Stuart is not the troubled detective standard in British productions, but a comfortably divorced mother of one who lives with her Dad, who cooks and cleans so she can devote herself to her work.

Part way through Season Two over a moment in a pub, her second DI Sunil ‘Sunny’ Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) leans in for a kiss while expressing his admiration for her. “Oh no, not going there”, she gasps, leaning back and bidding him a hasty goodbye. A couple of days later she says to an abashed Sunny: “Look, about the other night”, but before she can continue he says, “Oh please don’t feel bad.” Blinking, she replies: “I don’t feel bad, I was going to say ‘don’t waste your time feeling bad’.” Chagrined, Sunny acknowledges his boss’s wise and pragmatic approach to life.

Yeah, Cassie is not interested in being an emotional cliché, and in fact she is not interested in playing the woman at all. She’s a professional and when she gets home she wants to nurse a glass of wine while contemplating the tangled threads of the case currently on the table. The rest is unnecessary.

Season Two has just wound up, an especially complex case that begins with an old body found sealed in a suitcase in a river. As she pieces it all together Cassie is forced make some hard but practical decisions that do her career no favours but end up being the right choices for all concerned. This is a damned good series: absorbing, well written and humane, and Nicola Walker’s DCI Stuart is a fine tribute to the unflashy leadership method that women so often excel in.


* The Internet and ‘TV on Demand’ has revolutionised the way we watch TV shows. No longer beholden to television networks and their programming whims and scheduling, we can watch back-to-back episodes of new and old shows to our heart’s content without those annoying advertisements interrupting the narrative flow. TV viewing has suddenly become more accessible, democratic and a hell of a lot more fun. ANDREW JOHNSTONE scours the available channels and finds the best of the best, so you don’t have to.

 

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