Review: Coroner 1×1 (Canada: CBC; UK: Universal)

A generic procedural with a Canadian twist

Coroner
Serinda Swan and Roger Cross in Coroner

In Canada: Mondays, 9PM/9:30NT, CBC
In the UK: Mondays, 9pm, Universal. Starts January 21

By rights, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) should be the Canadian equivalent of our BBC. It does, after all, have a similar remit from its government. But without a licence fee, it has instead decided to become ITV, as far as I can see. Look at the vast bulk of its original programming and once you’ve pushed all the ITV-esque reality shows and competition shows out of your way, you’ll see:

  • Period dramas
  • Crime dramas
  • Period crime dramas

And most of those are female-led, too. Basically ITV.

Now we have CBC’s latest female-led crime drama, Coroner, based on the series of books by MR Hall, and if only it weren’t airing on Universal here, it would be a shoo-in for ITV.

Serinda Swan in Coroner
Serinda Swan in Coroner

Coroner Jenny Cooper

Serinda Swan (Breakout Kings, Tron: Legacy, Marvel’s Inhumans) plays former ER doctor Jenny Cooper, who decides after her husband dies that being a coroner is a better job option. As you do. Immediately heading up the entire department for some reason, she finds sloppy work and crotchety old men judging – yes, judging, I tell you – the deceased and so not doing proper autopsies. She decides to champion them, not only by doing great work, but solving all the murders in town instead of the police. Clearly, she’s been watching too much CSI.

Fortunately, to help her in her entirely off-job-description work, Canada’s “Roger Cross Full Employment Act” has ensured that detective Roger Cross (24, Continuum, Arrow, Dark Matter, The Strain, Motive, The Returned) is on hand and can offer some friendship/sexual frisson, too. In that latter role, he has a rival in the shape of hunky, former soldier, working class, French-Canadian Éric Bruneau (Tu m’aimes-tu?, Prémonitions, Mensonges), who seems to have nothing better to do all day than to do odd, heavy-lifting jobs for dead old women who can’t pay him and to smoulder.

Serinda Swan

Old and new

As you may have gathered from that, there’s nothing that new in the rundown for that and if it weren’t for its Canadian locale, I could have repeated that description and you’d have thought this was an adaptation of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books. Indeed, there’s lots about Coroner that’s predictable.

Rather than the doting type, Swan’s husband was naturally a gambler who double-mortgaged the house, leaving Swan and son (Ehren Kassam) in dire financial straits, so that the audience can root for the underdog single mum. Crotchety old white men are only there so they can be fired by Swan to show how kick ass she is and so she can diversity-promote the hideously underqualified young black coroner (Slasher‘s Lovell Adams-Gray) she’s just met, without consideration of the staff’s workload with her off doing one autopsy a week at best.

Cross and the rest of the police naturally come round to appreciating how kick ass Swan is, too, and actively help her in doing their jobs for them. And Bruneau could have wandered in from any Nicholas Sparks book you came to mention, in between all his moody glowering and thinking about his dark past killing people as a soldier.

However, this is Canada and Coroner is consequently a bit quirkier and nicer than its US counterpart would have been – it’s nowhere near nudging Harrow‘s level of quirkiness but it does know how to crack jokes at least. The fact it’s based on some books means there’s a heightened level of dialogue compared to the average procedural, and there are amusing characters, too. Plus being Canada, even the bad guys give up without a fight or a curse word.

As with Motive, the plot is all about layered appreciation of victims and criminals. Episode one sees two kids seemingly kill themselves in a correctional facility in a recreation of Romeo and Juliet‘s suicide pact. As you might expect, there’s more to it than that and it’s definitely murder, so the kids are blameless. But along the way, we discover just how nice and smart young offenders are, even ones arrested for gang offences. All you need to do is let them perform a bit of Shakespeare and they’re sorted.

Éric Bruneau in Coroner

Éric Bruneau in Coroner

Conclusion

If you’re a fan of the genre, then Coroner is decent enough. Swan isn’t the most versatile or charismatic of actresses, but at least she’s better and has more fire than Frankie Drake‘s Lauren Lee Smith. The rest of the cast either do their given plot roles sufficiently well or inject some welcome humour into things. And the story of the first episode, at least, has a few twists and turns you might not be expecting.

Otherwise, this is interchangeable female-led procedural fare that won’t convert anyone to the genre.

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