TV Times - We need a Cracker

THE recently-concluded BBC1 series, Case Histories, threw up the question of when the next great television crime series will arrive.

Case Histories was all right at best – but far from the special level the likes of Cracker and Prime Suspect reached.

What has come since has been a real mixed bag, which has been nothing more than satisfactory.

There have been good attempts over the years but you can’t see the likes of Wire In The Blood being listed among the all-time great dramas.

Of the current crop, Luther is a decent enough offering – even if its main driving force seems to be a determination to harvest the grit leading male Idris Ela picked up on The Wire.

But there was something special about Cracker and Prime Suspect. They carried a certain weight which put them in a cinematic category.

Case Histories looked like a promising newcomer but just flattered to deceive.

It handed the sleuthing to a private detective, automatically sweeping away all the police business, which can easily bog down a series.

And Jason Isaacs is undoubtedly a top-class leading man. He was the best thing about Case Histories.

But everything else about it ended up being a bit of a disappointment.

Case Histories will be back because it proved popular, especially Isaacs who quickly found himself a housewives’ favourite.

But lessons should be learned when it comes to framing each future episode.

Case Histories was based on a series of novels by Kate Atkinson, and adapting literary work often causes problems.

The books were popular, which automatically makes producers wary of altering the stories.

So what takes place in a novel suddenly has to fit into one or two hours on television?

A successful adaptation was done with the Red Riding novels which Channel 4 so brilliantly adapted in 2009.

Each of the three episodes captured the essence of the books but presented them in a manner which was a perfect fit to a televisual format.

Case Histories tried too hard to fit too much into too short a time period.

The first two-parter established and completed three cases in two hours, along with making an initial exploration into the main character’s back story.

It was far too much and just felt like one big mess once it had concluded.

When the programme inevitably returns it would be wise to take the character away from the novels and come up with fresh ideas.

This way there will be a more natural fit with a television narrative. Cracker and Prime Suspect were both written for television by two of the best writers this country has – Jimmy McGovern and Lynda La Plante respectively.

Case Histories was a perfect example of why tight and considered writing is the most vital element of any television drama. A good central character and some pretty decent mysteries were not enough to outweigh the negatives of this Edinburgh-set series.

Capturing the success of McGovern and La Plante will of course not be easy.

But using their methods is, I reckon, the only way forward.