ITV3 has just started (as of 45 minutes ago) showing the US version of Touching Evil. If you can, watch it because it’s a remarkable thing: a remake of a UK show that’s better than original. The UK version, starring Robson Green, was awful, a collection of clichés and predictability that made you wonder what could have possessed the likes of Paul Abbot and Russell T Davies when they wrote it. It so badly wanted to be a US show, but could only imitate and badly at that.
The US version, which was exec-produced by Bruce Willis of all people, took those clichés and ran with them. The throwaway “characterisation” of having the hero, David Creegan, shot in the head – something that never seemed to affect him in any way in the UK version – was a vital point in the US version.
Call me crazy, call me a layman who doesn’t really understand these things, but a bullet in the brain tends not to leave you totally unaffected. US Creegan loses a chunk of his brain thanks to his injury, which affects him in significant ways: various faculties such as shame are destroyed; he has problems doing simple things in the right order; he has no peripheral vision in one eye; he has to take breaks to cope with the rush of information in the world; and significantly he can no longer love his wife. This latter point gives us an original reason for once for a cop’s inevitable divorced status, rather than usual “obsessed with his job” formula. Indeed, Creegan is obsessed with his job, but he doesn’t want to be: he simply can’t help himself any more.
With another character acting like he has Asperger’s Syndrome and with Monk, the OCD detective, airing at the same time, the USA Network, which was the original home of Touching Evil, was practically the mental health drama channel for a while: the message being that it’s not the problems of the mentally ill that should be focused on, it’s what they can contribute.
The show also has a unique, unreal quality to it. You’re never quite sure if what’s happening is actually happening or is inside Creegan’s head. In the pilot episode, Creegan knows that some kidnapped boys are being kept in one of three tower blocks because a schizophrenic friend of his has pointed out that the number three has been occuring with strange regularity. Coincidence or something else?
Naturally, a show that good had to be cancelled after 13 episodes, much to everyone’s dismay. But then, that’s the USA Network for you.
Anyway, it’s on ITV3, which means no one will notice it, but if you can, tune in and watch one of the best dramas of the last couple of years.
PS The Wire‘s second season is now airing on FX. If you want full-on realism in your cop shows, that’s the one to watch. I’m so glad someone’s picked it up, although why it’s on another crappy zero-audience channel such as FX (cf Touching Evil being on ITV3), no one knows. It’s not like the mainstream channels are packed with brilliance at the moment. House is the only good US import currently airing on channels one through five, and I’ve almost given up on seeing good homegrown drama any more.