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Review: A pair of Scottish police dramas premiere with new episodes on BritBox

Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

Two Scottish police procedurals premiere new seasons on BritBox, one of the few streaming platforms (along with its rival, Acorn) to focus almost exclusively on TV series from the U.K.

Now in its eighth season, “Shetland” is a proven winner. Adapted from the novels of Ann Cleeves, the visuals are a thematically fitting backdrop with overcast skies and blustery seaside landscapes conspicuously barren of trees. The show’s other draw has long been Douglas Henshall as the peacoat-clad Detective Inspector Jimmy Pérez, whose well-worn dignity is undercut by a persistent annoyance with everything, including the job at hand. That tension has kept things interesting over seven seasons. And it meant the show didn’t have to rely entirely on the traumatic back story of his dead wife (a trope that should probably die as well) to give the character some dimension.

But the time has come to say goodbye to Jimmy and that peacoat. Henshall was ready to leave the series and he was written out at the end of last season. His replacement gives “Shetland” something of a reset, while retaining the small ensemble and much of what makes the show work.

Ashley Jensen (star of the considerably lighter crime-solving series “Agatha Raisin”) joins the cast as Detective Inspector Ruth Calder. She’s a Shetland native who left town when she was 18, but now she’s back, reluctantly, tracking the case of a young woman who might be mixed up in a murder and has since fled to her childhood home in — you guessed it — Shetland.

“You here for long?” someone asks. “Let’s hope not,” comes Ruth’s dour reply. Driving to the scene of a crime, the younger and chattier Detective Sergeant Alison “Tosh” McIntoch (Alison O’Donnell) points to the picturesque landscape. Ruth stops her. “I was born here,” and mentions the specific area. “It’s beautiful out that way,” Tosh says.

“If you like it bleak,” Ruth says, putting an end to the conversation.

 

The show probably traffics in romanticized notions of Scotland. But they’re effective. Give me a wind-swept setting and some workaday detectives furrowing their brows and unraveling a mystery minus the need for any guns, and we’re halfway there.

Would it surprise you that Ruth is estranged from her family? Or that she immediately falls into bed with an old flame? What if this same guy (played by Jamie Sives, of Masterpiece Mystery’s “Annika”) is caught up somehow in the case Ruth is investigating?

The show is structured as a season-long mystery and the theme this time out is family secrets. Everyone knows everyone — and eyes their neighbor with skepticism. Don’t turn over a rock unless you’re prepared for what you might find underneath.

There’s some of that gothic ambience coursing through “Crime” as well (returning for a second season), albeit in the more cosmopolitan setting of Edinburgh. Detective Inspector Ray Lennox (Dougray Scott) is a recovering addict returning to work after a relapse. He has a sad-eyed and haggard middle-aged face and an unexpectedly perky head of hair. He’s the kind of guy who stands with his arms at his sides, fists clenched. He is quite literally white-knuckling it through life. Upon his return to work, people eye him warily. He’ll have to prove he’s still up to the job.

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