Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier have killed TV crime drama. Or, more properly, TV crime drama killed itself with its recursive formula of haunted detectives and gore-porn; Brooker and Maier were just the ones who gleefully jumped up and down on its gratuitously bloody corpse.
After A Touch Of Cloth, Brooker and Maier’s two-part spoof on the clichés of modern homicide procedural shows, it’s hard to imagine ever watching another rooftop denouement or rain-soaked, blue-flashing-lights monologue without giggling. Ditto for sexually tense police partnerships and fast-edit close ups of dismembered cadavers… any, in fact, of the many spot-on observations made by the programme, which wore the skin of a modern crime drama so efficiently (thanks in great part to Jim O’Hanlon’s savvy direction) that some viewers must have tuned in not knowing it was a comedy.
They’d soon have been set right, though, as the gags came at machine-gun speed. The frequency of brilliantly silly lines and childish wordplay recall seasoned comedy writer Maier’s previous work on Harry Hill’s TV Burp, while the acerbic observations on the telly viewing public’s fetish for bloody torture are recognisably Brooker’s. Together, they’ve created a sort of wax effigy of crime TV, and then spent 90 seriously enjoyable minutes jabbing it with pins.
Making it even more fun is that the laughs and observations feel as if they’ve grown from fandom and not derision (well, maybe a little bit of derision). It takes a fan to bother to know a genre this well, and Brooker’s vocal love for crime series The Wire and grisly serial killer flick Se7en gleams underneath the show’s mucky, mordant wit.
Casting John Hannah and Suranne Jones, who play it Leslie Nielsen-style and absolutely straight, is the real coup. Both actors are entirely plausible leads (Jones so much so she does the job for real in ITV’s Scott & Bailey) and pull off the combination of frivolous puns, overwrought speeches and ridiculous acts of athleticism without ever dropping the façade. Support from Julian Rhind-Tutt as Assistant Chief Constable Boss was slightly more pantomimic, but fun nevertheless. Oh, and a round of applause for Elizabeth Bromby, who brought real depth to the role of WPC Cardboard Cut-out…
Said to have begun life as a Midsomer Murders spoof, A Touch Of Cloth warped into a wider genre parody during its creation. Extending the remit has given it more scope for future episodes, two of which are already in production, with a third two-parter already commissioned by Sky Atlantic.
Much as Brooker chewed up and then artfully spat out the familiarities of zombie flicks for 2008 zom-com horror Dead Set, A Touch Of Cloth is stacked with enough rapid-fire knowing observations to merit at least one repeat viewing with the pause button handy. Alongside the satirical point being made about TV crime shows parcelling up evil, blood and suffering for our thigh-rubbing entertainment, there are Police Squad!-type laughs galore.
Between this, Dead Set, Nathan Barley, the Screenwipe franchise, and Black Mirror (a series two episode of which has excitingly been co-dreamt up with Chris Morris) Brooker has established himself as much more than a caustic, troll-baiting newspaper columnist. He’s also – thank God – a man who watches far too much television, and a versatile gem of a screenwriter.
A Touch Of Cloth comes out on DVD on Monday the 3rd of September.
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