In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, ITV1 (except Scotland)
Good drama - good anything - is hard to find on ITV1 these days (even harder in Scotland, where STV is failing to carry almost any of ITV1's programmes). Yet there are a few standouts, usually in the crime genre. The Fixer is one such standout. It features Andrew Buchan as a former SAS soldier, recruited by a shadowy branch of the police to do its very, very dirty work, usually involving murder but also resorting to other unpleasantries that are in no way legal. With a chav idiot sidekick and a hard as nails, unmovable boss, The Fixer is basically Callan for the 21st century.
Series one of The Fixer was properly classed as very good, rather than excellent. It came perilously close to excellent at times, but despite being an action show, it had very little action, it exhibited quite phenomenal amounts of misogyny at times, it veered towards the cliché and the occasionally silly, and Tamzin Outhwaite was pretty much there as a name to draw in an audience, rather than because she had anything to do.
Series two, which opened with a two-part story, seems to have spotted these problems and done its level best to fix them, because despite a slightly flat and occasionally bizarre opening episode, the second episode managed to pile on the suspense and action in bucketloads.
Here's a promo - and yes, that is Mr Darcy from Lost in Austen as an evil member of the security services - followed by the first 10 minutes of the first episode of series one, just so you have an idea of what's going on if you missed it: you can watch the rest on YouTube or DVD if you want.
The first two episodes revolved around a child-trafficking plot and were suitably grim. Almost too grim - the kind of grim that someone thinks is grim but just ends up looking unrealistic and implausible.
Mercer has to incriminate a gang leader for murder and tries to get a member of his gang and his girlfriend to snitch on him. Unfortunately, in a The Fixer first, it all goes pear-shaped and everyone ends up dead by the end of part one. Part two ups the ante by taking the action into prison where he has to take on the gang leader's boss, a former care home owner who used to sell children to paedophiles. Mercer, whose sister was abused by their uncle and so goes off at the deep end when he finds out what the gang does, is suitably angry throughout.
Throughout the first episode, there was a feeling that maybe the show had run out of steam, that it had tried to touch greatness too many times and had finally given up. Much of the dialogue felt hackneyed. The casting of that bloke from the Nationwide ads as an evil paedo boss who can instil fear into the heart of gang leaders while playing with model soldiers (a nod to Callan?) didn't work in the slightest. Tamzin Outhwaite just stood around and acted bitchy, while Calum the sidekick was simply irritating. Even Peter Mullan seemed to be phoning in his performance, visibly seeming to find some of his OTT dialogue risible ("You're not the organ grinder, you're not even the monkey, you're the bell on the monkey"). And there were moments of plot illogic that had no explanation to even try to make them plausible - why was Mercer running between estates, rather than driving, when he needed to stop someone being murdered?
Episode two fixed most of that (pun intended). Mullan once more got to be scary, while also sympathetic as one of his friends (and boss) reveals he's close to death from cancer. Outhwaite finally got something to do, while Calum became more sympathetic once he had someone even more pathetic to look after.
More importantly, Mercer, the supposed action hero who's had very little to do in the show worthy of being called action, finally had the chance to be a vicious psycho and show us why Mullan's character recruited him. There was also a nifty plot twist in which the audience gets blindsided and the whole nature of the story changes.
Above all of this, there now appears to be a series arc, in which that nice Mr Darcy is a suitably evil and cold English spy with which Mullan can interact and fight, rather than giving veiled threats to Mercer the whole time.
It's still a little ridiculous, with Mercer acting in ways no actual former SAS soldier would behave in combat (something that next week's episode appears to highlight from the trailer), the dialogue trying to be hard-boiled but simply overdoing it and there's still a nasty misogynistic streak. But it finally appears to have become thrilling and worth watching - and certainly more plausible than Britain's only other comparable show, Spooks.
- October 8, 2009: Series finale: The Fixer (series two)
A series review of the second series of The Fixer
- April 18, 2013: Review: Da Vinci's Demons 1x1 (Starz/FOX)
A review of the first episode of Starz's Da Vinci's Demons