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 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.
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.
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
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.
In Australia: Mondays, 8.30pm AEST, Showcase. Starts October 1
Hitmen and comedy seem to be a heady combination. On TV alone, just recently, we’ve had HBO’s Barry and Epix’s Get Shorty; UK TV has Mel and Sue reunited at last for the forthcoming Hitmen. And in the movies, there are comedy hitmen in The Whole Nine Yards, Get Shorty (again), Pulp Fiction, A Fish Called Wanda and Grosse Pointe Blank, to name but a few.
Which is odd. Hitmen murder people for money, so they aren’t especially nice people.
Mr InBetween may be a dark comedy about a hitman, but it does at least seem to understand that. Based on Scott Ryan’s 2005 student movie The Magician (he can make people disappear…), it sees Ryan reprise his role as Ray Shoesmith, a smiling Australian odd job man who seems like a nice bloke. He’s a decent enough father to his child, whom he still manages to spend time with, despite the divorce. He keeps a dog, plays video games at home and is willing to do a mate a big favour if he needs it – like ‘admitting’ to his mate’s Russian wife that that DVD of porn she found was actually his, not her husband’s. He even helps with the care of his brother, who’s in the early stages of motor neurone disease.
Those odd jobs, though? Sure, he’s a bouncer at a club. But he’s also a debt-collector, who’ll threaten the wife and family of anyone who fails to pay up on time. And if someone fails his boss, they might find themselves plummeting to their doom from a great height.
In between days
Ryan’s portrayal of an enforcer is both darkly threatening and nuanced. He smiles so much you want to like him and when he doesn’t need to use violence, he won’t, instead using persuasion and threats to get what he wants. When a young protégé on his first job starts roughly up an ordinary man who can’t pay, Ryan simply gets the man’s wallet out, looks up the address and pockets the family photo he finds. It’s enough to get the money.
When the protégé apologies later, Ryan is all smiles still. “Don’t worry. You’re not expected to know what to do the first time,” he says.
But the story is also a portrayal of loneliness. Despite his friendliness and constant banter with the blokes, Ryan finds it hard to connect with women. When a paramedic (Brooke Satchwell) he encounters when they’re walking their dogs shows interest, Ryan doesn’t know how to act, but knows that he should. Fortunately, life presents him with a second chance…
Portrait of a hitman
The show is billed as a dark comedy, but there aren’t many jokes, just wry situations. More pervasive is the expectation of constant violence, with the possibility Ryan’s smile is going to disappear and erupt into violence at any point. When the violence comes, it’s bone crunching and there’s an opening stunt that will make you almost gasp in wonder at they managed to film it.
Instead, it’s more of a well written, brave character piece, with some fine acting by Ryan. That writing and performance is presumably enough to have wooed the great and the good of Australia’s acting fraternity to turn up, since Damon Herriman (Secret City, Quarry) and Jackson Tozer (The Ex-PM) are regulars, and Firass Dirani (Underbelly) and Matt Nable (Deadline Gallipoli, Hyde and Seek, Arrow, Barracuda) are set to appear in later episodes.
Don’t expect fireworks and long action scenes. Don’t expect huge jokes. But Mr InBetween is a fascinating little show with only a half-hour runtime, so pretty much anyone can give it a try.