Murder Investigation Team: The Complete Series One Review
New Order's Peter Hook jokes that half of the budget for 24 Hour Party People was spent on making a normal person look like Shaun Ryder but, if that's so, you'd wonder why they bothered going to the expense when they could have got the makers of The Bill to do the job for a comparatively paltry amount of money. After all, were she cast on any other show, there would be Internet fansites devoted to Lisa Geoghan (PC Polly Page). As Brookside's Barry Grant, Paul Usher made young women faint in their front rooms with his mix of good looks and villainy but when The Bill had him cast as PC Des Taviner, their mirrors broke at the sight of him.
Even here, Joe Shaw, who, as the son of ex-Professionals Martin Shaw, is not an unattractive man, looks, on the cover of this DVD, to be the less handsome younger brother of Peter Beardsley. How does The Bill do it? And what with the grim locations, the dull, dull storylines, the dabbling into soapland and those two pairs of shoes three times a week, my hopes weren't high for Murder Investigation Team, a spin-off from the Sun Hill cop soap/drama.
That said, Murder Investigation Team is a much more low-key drama and is played without the hysterics of its parent show. Indeed, it's almost shy about making the connection to The Bill at all, what with there only being a link in its first episode with the murder of Sgt Matt Boyden, after which it makes a decent fist of standing on its own.
Murder Investigation Team stars ex-Eastender Lindsay Coulson and Samantha Spiro are cast as DC Rosie McManus and DI Vivien Friend, respectively, who lead a team of detectives through police investigations into various suspicious deaths and obvious homicides. Where previous shows in the genre have often focused solely on one aspect of the investigation, MIT favours a dogged attention to detail throughout the entire police enquiry, from the discovery of a body through to an admission or a proving of guilt. As such, the Murder Investigation Team includes a pathologist, a forensic scientist and a team of detectives and DI Friend is often seen to hold a press conference to requesting that her supervisor, DCI Savage (Steven Pacey), deal with the press on her behalf, particularly in such politically sensitive cases as those presented in the episodes Rubbish and Lambs to the Slaughter, which touch on ritual killing and paedophilia.
When described in those terms, Murder Investigation Team is a very welcome addition to the increasing number of police dramas on television, which includes The Shield, CSI, Dalziel And Pascoe and Law & Order but, annoyingly, several things prevent it from joining the ranks of these much better shows.
Firstly and at its worst, Murder Investigation Team is as shrill and hectic as the worst of The Bill with the opening episode, Moving Targets, as the worst offender. I suspect that the makers of Murder Investigation Team have also realised this, given that the current showing of the show's second season on ITV is of ninety-minute episodes (with adverts) rather than the hour-long episodes here. Secondly, Murder Investigation Team puts the wrong emphasis on the conflicts and relationships that exist between the members of the team, something that is better balanced in imported US and homegrown BBC cop shows. Admittedly, CSI and Law & Order are pared-to-the-bone shows but The Shield, Dalziel and Pascoe and Waking The Dead all revealed something of their leads without the depressing bitching that goes on here. The constant whining of this cast makes the viewer long for the outright aggression between Mackey and Aceveda in The Shield, which is used sparingly and only when necessary, or the frustration that comes from the caring relationship that Andy Dalziel has with the officers and constables serving under him.
However, both of these pale beside the series' distinct lack of ambition, something that is commonplace in British television and is exemplified here by the cliched descriptions of each character on the DVD box case. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation wouldn't describe Grissom or Brass as, "The 'doer' who'll use her heart as well as her head" or, "The mother hen with a real passion for the minutia of his work" as McManus and DS Barry Purvis are branded here. Just once, you wish that ITV would aim for the stars, just as they once did with Inspector Morse, rather than be content not to be in the gutter. The success of shows like CSI and Law & Order ought not to be out of ITV's reach, just as BBC's Waking The Dead, Spooks or Messiah have rejuvenated the drama department of the BBC.
As much as Murder Investigation Team has the intent of be the equal of any of these television shows and, indeed, an improvement on a number of them, through being badly produced by Paul Marquess (The Bill, Footballer's Wives and Brookside), Murder Investigation Team looks cheap, stupid and clod-footed in comparison.
ITV was once a serious competitor to the BBC in terms of its drama output but in spite of the claims made in Melvyn Bragg's recent documentary series on his employer, the third channel has long been in decline, with the most basic of errors being made in a show like this. Under David Liddiment, the network reached what you might have thought was its lowest moment when Liddiment publicly complained that the BBC was playing unfairly through its production of commercially and critically successful shows. Since then, however, ITV has continued to perform badly with the likes of Celebrity Wrestling and Celebrity Love Island being the sort of things that we would have expected from a cheap satellite channel, not from the channel that once showed Inspector Morse, Cracker, Hillsborough and Cold Feet.
Murder Investigation Team was clearly intended to be an amalgam of various cops shows - it shares a bleak view on humanity with The Shield, its use of forensic science and pathology are nods to CSI and Silent Witness and its use of beat cops has been taken from any number of predecessors - but ITV and Thames Television have delivered something all of their own, which, in this case, is no recommendation. In failing to do what Inspector Morse once did - to take a typical ITV audience and to drag them into the classics, opera and a twisting, intelligent and satisfying police investigation - Murder Investigation Team is a forgettable and disappointing experience, with each show being no more memorable than an episode of The Bill.
This three-disc DVD boxset contains all eight episodes of Murder Investigation Team's first season, which are also listed below:
Moving Targets (49m26s): When a police sergeant from Sun Hill, Sgt Matt Boyden, is murdered during a drive-by shooting, along with an unidentified man, the MIT look into the possibility that either man may have been the intended target. After examining Boydan's house and finding that he wasn't clean, DI Friend pushes the investigation towards Boyden's crack-addicted daughter and the mother of a young girl that Boyden was having a sexual relationship with, who also happens to be DI Samantha Nixon (Lisa Maxwell), also of Sun Hill, which creates an unwanted amount of friction between MIT and Sun Hill, which isn't helped by having that second and unidentified victim.
Daddy's Little Girl (49m01s): When a body of a young woman is found in the rubble of a shopping complex that is being demolished, MIT are called in to investigate and find that the body displays obvious medical clues that point towards a survivor of leukaemia. When the body is identified as that of a young woman who has been missing for the last three years, Lucy Seabrook, Friend and McManus visit her parents to tell them that the body of their daughter has been found. As the investigation continues, Friend finds that the victim was not as innocent as her parents would have her believe but, again, nor are they.
Rubbish (48m42s): When the body of a young black boy is found on a rubbish barge on the Thames, McManus suspects that it was a ritual murder given that Cornell notices strange scarring on the boy and that his heart is missing. MIT's investigation focuses, therefore, on a religion that began in sub-Saharan Africa, which is also practiced in London and permits the ritual killing of children. As MIT continue their work, they find that the brother of the young boy is also missing and that the parents of both are genuinely shocked at the sight of the condition of their son's corpse, implying no knowledge of any sacrifice. Friend, however, senses that the answer may be more obvious than they first thought.
Reading, Writing and Gangbanging (49m17s): MIT are called to the site of two murders - one of a homeless man found floating on a lake and another of a middle-aged teacher found on a run-down housing estate having been pushed from a window. When MIT fail to identify a clear link between the two men, they concentrate on who may have murdered the teacher, finding that he was being threatened by an ex-pupil. As they continue their investigation, forensic evidence from the scene of the crime suggests that whoever murdered the teacher may have also murdered the homeless man but the reason why both deaths occurred continues to elude them.
Red Heads (48m53s): When a young boy finds the body of Penny Wake, a red-haired woman, buried in an overgrown piece of waste ground, MIT fail to find any forensic evidence on her body, it is because it had been cleaned inside and out with bleach. As their investigation continues, MIT begin researching into the number of incidences of assault or the murder of red-haired women in the same area in which Penny Wake was found, which leads them to a young man looking after his seriously ill, red-haired wife.
Models and Millionaires (49m09s): The body of a woman washed up on the banks of the Thames means that the Murder Investigation Team have a new case. When they identify the deceased as Natasha McKay, a rich and beautiful model with seemingly everything to live for, they focus their attention on her husband, Dennis McKay (Gary Kemp) but he has an alibi for the night of the murder, leaving DI Friend to consider that McKay might have been having an affair.
Lambs to the Slaughter (48m14s): When he doesn't answer his front door, beat cops enter the house of convicted paedophile Barry Morton only to find that he was been bludgeoned to death. The graffiti inside Morton's house and the knowledge that the local community knew about his time in jail leads the Murder Investigation Team to suspect that it was a vigilante killing by concerned local parents but when two voicemail messages from Morton are found, one to an associate of Morton's and the other to that man's wife, DI Friend considers the motive to be personal and not driven by the community.
The Bigger the Lie (48m38s): When a small-time crook discovers the body of a journalist. Ellen Merrick, in an abandoned shop that had long been boarded-up, Murder Investigation Team approach the local Bangladeshi community for help and possible witnesses but find that no one is willing to speak to them. Similarly, no one at Merrick's paper is prepared to talk so DI Friend must rely on forensic evidence and her team's ability to find out the story that Merrick was working on to catch the killer.
Given that it is a recent television show, Murder Investigation Team has been transferred in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and looks fine, really neither good nor bad but much the same as the original Sky Digital or Freeview broadcast will have done.
The 2.0 Stereo audio track is, like the picture, functional rather than exciting but, quite unbelievably, Murder Investigation Team does not offer any subtitles. Even in recent times, when the lowest-budgeted releases included subtitles, this release from Eureka Video is a poor one.
There are two special features on the release of Murder Investigation Team, which feels too little for a boxset like this:
An Interview with Michael McKell (24m37s): Cast as the hard-man, DS Trevor Hands, in the series, Michael McKell is interviewed in a relaxed setting with a drink and cigarette in hand to provide some background detail on the show. McKell describes how he was cast in Murder Investigation Team, how a typical episode is made and how the police advisor on the show, DCI Jackie Malton, worked with the actors to ensure authenticity.
Audio Commentary: Series executive producer, Paul Marquess, and police consultant on the show, DCI Jackie Malton, provide a commentary on the opening episode only, using it to describe the casting process, their use of real police procedures and how they went about getting the show agreed by ITV.
It could have been worse, I suppose, although you may not think so given the tone of this review. Had they not actually gone for authenticity at all and simply concocted one more crime drama with a poetry-reading detective in a rural setting, who drives a vintage car, then that would have been a bad thing given that ITV3 is already awash with such murder-before-teatime dramas.
However, Murder Investigation Team just feels as though its there because The Bill is shown too early in the evening to include topics like paedophilia, racism, a fetish for ginger hair and incest. Indeed, Paul Marquess says as much in the commentary, which suggests that this has no more value to it than one of the dreadful 'adult' spin-offs from Brookside, The Bill or Hollyoaks, something that, again, reinforces the argument that ITV and, less frequently, Channel 4 are happy to slum it in a bid for ratings.
Frankly, though, why you'd bother with this when CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, The Shield, Law & Order and, a particular favourite, Boomtown are all available is quite beyond me.