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Channel hop: Your guide to the best of British TV

Mark Peters

 

For all our many faults there's one thing Brits are rather good at (disregarding excessive tea consumption, playing movie villains and sarcasm): the gritty detective drama series. What with Cracker, Frost, Vera, Taggart, Morse and Luther, to name but a few, I'm amazed there are any unsolved crimes left on the old sceptred isle. Thankfully (for television, at any rate) Blighty also has an abundance of serial-killing nutters and other dodgy criminals to keep the singular-monikered copper busy. And - not forgetting Sherlock and Prime Suspect (with the steely Helen Mirren) - we can now add the BBC's gripping new series The Fall (Fox Crime, Wednesday at 10.50pm) to the list of superlative shows. Having premiered last week (so if you missed the first episode, we strongly suggest you catch a repeat before Wednesday), this five-part drama stars Gillian Anderson as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, an officer with the London Metropolitan Police who goes to Belfast, in Northern Ireland, to help solve a stalled high-profile murder case. In part one, it was quickly revealed that the murderer is softly spoken grief counsellor Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan; Once Upon A Time), a devoted father of two and hipsterish-looking serial killer.

With a sombre pace creating a sense of unease, this is not your typical whodunnit (seeing as we already know who the culprit is). Rather, it's a slow-burning but thrilling cat and mouse game that spurns the typical blood and gore shocks in favour of psychological creepiness. Anderson is wonderful, sexy (I was never an X-Files nerd so this is no Dana Scully fanboy fantasy) and headstrong; an ice-cool detective reminiscent of Mirren's Jane Tennison. The way she casually tells a journalist to f*** off in the first episode is an object lesson in proper English swearing.

It's Dornan, however, who steals the show (hello Hollywood, here's your new star!), playing both caring husband and sadistic killer with impressive restraint. He's so unnervingly "normal" that female viewers may be moved to venture worried glances at their own husbands. Dornan's triumph, though, is that he manages to make both sides of his character equally compelling. Not for everyone, I know, but definitely my cup of tea.

From one Met officer solving crimes in other jurisdictions to another. Death in Paradise (BBC Entertainment, Friday at 9pm) is a sunnier, murder-by-numbers comedy drama starring Ben Miller (Primeval). Set on the fictional Caribbean island of Sainte-Marie, Miller plays uptight Detective Inspector Richard Poole, who, after being assigned to the tropical paradise to investigate the death of a colleague, is instructed to remain as the local police force's new senior detective. There wouldn't be much humour without Poole's stiff-upper-lip distaste for the unfamiliar, and, of course, his impractical refusal to dress down only serves to make him appear even more ludicrous. Assisted by sidekick French sergeant Camille and laid-back ladies' man Dwayne (Danny John-Jules - looking a little different from his role as Cat in Red Dwarf), it's an all-too-familiar parody of the Englishman abroad. If you're already thinking Midsomer Murders meets Doc Martin with a Malibu cocktail then you're not far wrong. Another day in paradise? Not for me, thanks.

Cat-fisting, grabbling, dogging (seriously?), stumping, noodling, call it what you will - sticking your arm in an underwater hole to wrestle out a defenseless catfish is not a sport. Up until recently this "skill", banned in all but 11 American states, was unheard of outside Hillbilly Hicksville, but these are the kind of shows Animal Planet is happy to bring us ( Catfishin' Kings; tomorrow at 9pm). Faced with a fisherman's intruding limb in its home, a catfish will swim forward and latch onto said limb, in a purely defensive move. This is not a sport - it's just moronic and barbaric redneck hunting. The only enjoyment to be derived from it would be if one of the whiskered specimens sank its teeth into one of the "athletes" and ripped off his hand. But seeing as they don't have teeth and only use suction and gulping to catch their prey, there is no such fun to be had.

 

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