The Guardian 22 June, 2005

TV programs worth watching
Sun June 26 — Sat July 2

Those who have been waiting for Amanda Burton to reappear as the murder-solving clinical pathologist Professor Ryan in a new series of Silent Witness, will be unlikely to find her new show, The Commander (ABC 8.30pm Sundays), to be quite what they are looking for.

True, it’s a cop show, in which she plays Clare Blake, the head of a Murder Review Group for the London Metropolitan Police. But I am afraid that Amanda the Commander is suffering from a bad dose of The Bill syndrome: absurd, soap opera plots.

Consider, if you will, the content of the first two episodes of The Commander (I gather it’s done two episodes at a time so they can more easily be sold to cable TV as a feature movie): Clare Blake takes over as Commander and makes her priority case the police shooting of an unarmed civilian.

However, one of her team, the sinister DCI Hedges, for reasons of his own, does not want the case scrutinised. Meanwhile, James Lampton is released from jail after serving 12 years for the murder of his girlfriend.

Lampton claims he was innocent and has written a book for which the Commander has written the forward. (Apparently top cops do that sort of thing.)

Then she has a love affair with the ex-jailbird. (Apparently top cops do that sort of thing too.)

Then the tabloid press splash her love affair all over Britain, but inexplicably, instead of being tossed out on her ear, she continues in her top cop position.

This is handy, for it allows Clare and her team to prove that Lampton really did murder his girlfriend and two other women as well, but — being the kind of show it is — not before Clare herself almost becomes his fourth victim.

Gosh! But there’s more: in this week’s episode, besides investigating her latest case, Clare has to contend with being stalked by the deranged sister of one of Lampton’s victims.

Then there’s Clare’s sister, who has terminal cancer. And did I mention the growing attraction between Clare and DI Ken Miles?

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that The Commander was devised, written and produced by Lynda La Plante.

Much more entertaining is Grumpy Old Women (ABC 8.00pm Tuesdays). This four-part series is a companion to the recent Grumpy Old Men, but — at least judging by the first episode, there are some significant differences.

The first is that some of these women are not old (certainly not to a 65-year-old like me, anyway). Most would seem to be in their fifties or at worst their sixties.

The second, and more important difference, is in the subject matter. The grumpy old men sounded off about anything and everything in the modern world that got on their goat.

The grumpy old women are channelled by the program’s makers into grumbling about things that affect them personally — the type of clothes (especially underware) that you have to buy and wear as you get older, the way your face sags and you begin to look like your mother!

It will be interesting to see what line the second episode takes. The first is well worth a look (especially if you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went in there — Germaine Greer’s tale is very reassuring).

Someone’s Watching (SBS 8.30pm Tuesdays) is a two-part series on surveillance in the USA (and elsewhere by implication). The first episode looks at government surveillance, and the efforts by the Pentagon and the FBI to make wholesale spying on ordinary Americans not only legal but acceptable.

Concerned whether the US government might use electronic surveillance to stifle dissent (surely they wouldn’t do that?), the program interviews Sam Dash, former chief counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee and apparently an "eavesdropping historian".

Someone’s Watching also presents accounts from first-hand witnesses of the FBI’s bugging and wiretapping of Martin Luther King.

Last week’sBlack Books (ABC 9.00pm Wednesdays) was a big improvement on the first episode of the new series — almost back to form, in fact.

In this week’s edition, Manny’s parents, "Moo-ma" and "Moo-pa" (played by Annette Crosbie and Sam Kelly), come to visit. Manny (Bill Bailey) is mortified, Bernard (Dylan Moran) is horrified while Fran (Tamsin Greig) goes from sympathising with Manny to forming an alliance with Bernard.

The mini bar under the restaurant table is a felicitous idea — you almost feel it could catch on.

The detective team in the Scottish police series Taggart (ABC 8.30pm Fridays) may be headed up by DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton) with DI Robbie Ross (John Michie) as his number two, but it’s DS Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff) who heads the cast.

Blythe has been with this long running show since the days of the original inspector Taggart who gave his name to the series. Like the rest of the cast she is an accomplished actor capable of making a police detective into an interesting and convincing character.

The program’s regional setting (Glasgow) is part of its appeal — this week two of the team have to visit the capital, Edinburgh, which Burke detests ("all tartan and bagpipes").

Taggart is a fast-paced, full-on police series in which both the police and the viewers concentrate on solving the case. This week’s episode, Cause And Effect, is — typically — densely plotted by writer Daniel Boyle, and directed with spirit by Patrick Harkins.

Get set for some scintillating guitar riffs when film dir­ector Martin Scorsese introduces a seven-part television series The Blues (ABC 10.10pm Saturdays). Made by the US Public Broadcasting System (PBS — the same system whose budget Congress has just voted to slash) this is not just a series about music.

As Scorsese points out in the first episode, which he also directs, the blues was the music of slavery, with its origins in Africa, music that helped the slaves keep their African culture alive.

Its lyrics, typically about "my woman done treat me so bad", were also frequently coded references to the working and living conditions in the South.

But of course, the music is the core of the series. Scorsese pays fulsome tribute to Alan Lomax who recorded folk music all over the USA during the ’30s and onwards and the program has marvellous performances by Ledbelly, Son House, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and many others.

Each episode is introduced by Scorsese but they are directed by such famous names as Wim Wenders, Mike Figgis, even Clint Eastwood.

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