TV lawmen come in two flavours: dumb comedy cop with a donut gut, or gruff, high-functioning depressive with a problematic personal life. One look at Stephen Tompkinson as Alan Banks in ITV’s adaptation of Peter Robinson’s best-selling crime thriller, tells us that he’s probably not the first kind. Sure enough, he’s a divorcee with two kids who lives for the job, which means he needs a giant tipple to cool off in his down time. Does this sound at all familiar?
Banks ticks every box in the how-to-make-a-TV-detective handbook--from his penchant for jazz and booze to his haunted, sallow eyes. The first hour of this two-part pilot reveals that our DCI is a virtual copy of his many on-screen predecessors. Though, to be fair, Banks is less emotionally constipated than your standard model (he nearly cries when he sees a collection of corpses, for instance). You wouldn’t catch Wallander sniffling over a body.
Audiences love a maudlin, hard-working cop and programme makers are reluctant to tweak the recipe. So the fact that this new dick is rigorously formulaic doesn’t mean you should stay away--far from it. Tompkinson might just be the next great primetime crime-fighter. He’s sickly-skinned, scrunch-faced, intense and furious in all the right places. Though, it’s Robinson’s twisty tale--icy and expertly paced--that really shines out.
When two young cops attend what looks like a routine domestic, they’re not expecting to unearth a serial killer and his den, and in doing so discover what became of five missing blonde girls. This all happens in the first few minutes, so you’d be right to presume there’s much more to the story. Quickly, we learn that one of the missing girls hasn’t turned up in the cellar, so Banks dedicates himself to finding her. As you’d expect from a man who is his job, he feels guilty that he didn’t sniff out the killer before he struck. Only finding the remaining girl can offer him some redemption. We watch him charge about from lead to lead trying to keep his responses measured but, inevitably, failing. The most interesting, creepy conversations are between Banks and the killer’s odd, abused wife. Might she know more than she’s letting on?
Then there are two offshoot plots; a lighter one that shows Banks flirting with a woman and another, more traumatic, tangent concerning one of the officers who discovered the murderer’s lair. The strands intertwine well and every resolution is delightfully unpredictable. We just hope ITV take swift action and commission a full series. We’d like to see more of DCI Banks.The show airs on ITV and ITV HD on Monday 27 at 9pm.