CSI and The Mentalist are the cupcake cop series. American fast food. Lite-bites.
Throughout its nine series run, Waking the Dead has been a model of intelligent, tense, crime drama and it wasn’t even Scandinavian. Fans of good plots and acting will miss the series
Waking the Dead is a three course meal.
It finished on Monday after eleven fine years which established it at the forefront of British crime drama.
What made it stand out was its quality and verve. Waking the Dead was all about beautiful characterisation, restrained, sharp writing, slow burning plots and crafty but understated visual appeal.
Most of all it was about 59 year-old Trevor Eve as Boyd. His portrayal of the eternal tormented figure - a figure familiar to us from Hamlet onwards – was exceptional.
Boyd, the boss of a police cold case unit investigating unsolved murders, was a man on fire. He burned for the truth and wanted it so badly he got angry all the time. The way Eve’s character displayed this rage, shouting down superiors, banging the table, getting in the face of the criminals, was all about timing and believability.
Even when the team’s psychologist Grace Foley, played by Sue Johnson, got him to take it easy with people, the bottled-in fury of not being able to articulate his frustration was riveting to watch. The back story to the anger, the disappearance and death of Boyd’s son when he was for once not in control of a situation, was plain to see, the scars raw and reluctant to heal.
All this made characters such as Horatio Caine in CSI Miami look paper-thin and weak.
The last two-parter of the series was simply called ‘Waterloo’, and featured Boyd at his ratty best.
Referring to Waterloo Bridge and the homeless that sleep there, it could easily have been a pun on Boyd’s own possible ‘Waterloo’ as he was accused of murder and was faced with the murder of his son once more. It certainly was Waterloo for Paul McCann, the Assistant Police Commissioner with the dodgy past who came up against our indefatigable Sleuth.
McCann’s performance was also beautifully acted. The sidekick roles of Johnson, Wil Johnson (Spence) and Tara Fitzgerald (Eve Lockhart) couldn’t have been bettered either. Fitzgerald, in particular, shone in her role as the gruesome forensics doctor.
Throughout its nine series run, Waking the Dead has been a model of intelligent, tense, crime drama and it wasn’t even Scandinavian. Fans of good plots and acting will miss the series. It was better than Morse, better than Spooks, better than most other British cop dramas of the last two decades.
This was the BBC getting it right. Let’s hope they dig up another other excellent body of work soon.
In the meantime it’s back to the cupcake, content-lite, platitudes of the beautiful people on CSI, saying everything twice, “But this time we’re on to him Eric. This time we’re on to him.”
Follow Jonathan Schofield on twitter @JonathSchofield