I had planned to include The Fall in my recent recap of the best (in my opinion) TV shows of 2014, but decided not to when I found that we’d watched the first season in September 2013 instead of sometime last year, as I’d initially thought. The second season began streaming on Netflix this January, so I thought it was out of bounds. I hadn’t heard of Grantchester until just before it starting airing last month on Masterpiece Mystery following Downton Abbey on Sundays. Both series are so good that rather than wait, I want to write briefly about them now.
The Fall (BBC Two, Netflix) This series was written entirely by Allan Cubitt, who also directed all six episodes of the second season; Jakob Verbruggen directed the five epsiodes of the first season. Yes, it’s another cop show with yet another serial killer of women at the center of the plot, but this one is rather different, it seems to me. Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson) is assigned to the Police Service of Northern Ireland to evaluate a murder investigation that is still open after 28 days. When it becomes apparent a serial killer is involved, she stays on to oversee the operation. We see the killer, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan), almost immediately. Each episode alternates scenes of Spector with scenes of Stella; almost equal time is given to both. I like police procedurals, but The Fall is also a kind of serial-killer procedural, which puts us uncomfortably close to this guy.
As Spector, Jamie Dornan is intensely methodical, precise, controlled, and focused almost like a machine, rarely showing emotion. We see him at his day job as a bereavement counselor, which he seems to be very good at, and very empathetic. This is quite disturbing considering his night work as a serial killer, at which he’s also very good. Jamie Dornan, a former Calvin Klein model, is authentically frightening in the role. He’s about to gain a much bigger profile after the much-hyped Fifty Shades of Grey opens, in which he plays the male lead.
Gillian Anderson is outstanding as Stella Gibson, a cop every bit as focused as Paul Spector. Stella is a layered character with demons of her own. Anderson is best known for her role as FBI agent Dana Scully on The X-Files, which she played for nine years from 1993 to 2002. The Fall also features Archie Panjabi as pathologist Dr. Paula Smith. I’ve known her mainly as Kalinda Sharma on The Good Wife, so it was great to see her in another guise.
Here’s Stella in action as she’s being questioned about her dalliance with a police sergeant on the force. This is from season one.
There’s talk of a third season, which seems inevitable considering how well The Fall has been received both here and in the UK. It will be interesting to see where it goes.
Grantchester (ITV, PBS) What got our attention when we started seeing Masterpiece Mystery promos for this series was that James Norton was in the cast. He was still fresh in our minds for his committed performance as the villain in Happy Valley, one of my favorite shows from last year. His character in that series, Tommy Lee Royce, was as threatening and disturbing as Paul Spector was in The Fall. Here he plays an Anglican vicar in the village of Grantchester, near Cambridge in England, in the early 1950s. There was no period of adjustment; we immediately accepted him in this radically different role.
Based on novels by James Runcie, the series follows a vicar, Sidney Chambers, as he goes about his life in the community, and manages to help solve murders along the way. He forms an alliance with an initially reluctant local policeman, Detective Inspector Geordie Keating. Keating is played by Robson Green, who was in Touching Evil (1997-1999) and A Wire in the Blood (2002-2008), two British series I’ve heard good things about but haven’t seen. He and Norton have great chemistry and their characters make a good team.
We’ve only seen four of the six episodes in this season of Grantchester, but so far it’s been excellent, very easygoing and a pleasure to watch. The mysteries often don’t seem any more important than the problems and challenges Sydney is having in his personal life. For example, the woman he’s in love with has announced her pending marriage to another man. And while it might not seem credible that Sydney would encounter a murder one week after the next, it doesn’t really matter; that’s what the show is, and I gladly accept it. While it doesn’t have the noirish, hardboiled edge I usually look for in these things, Grantchester nonetheless plays for keeps. A second season has been announced.
Both seasons of The Fall can be streamed via Netflix. Grantchester is currently airing on Masterpiece Mystery on Sunday nights following Downton Abbey. — Ted Hicks