REVIEW / Simply take one hard-nosed copper. Stir

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The Independent Culture
THERE'S a book to be written about television's current taste for the dysfunctional hero. It seems we like our policeman distressed, or at least that's what gets served up to us time after time - troubled men and women with abrasive manners; not fine enough to polish and smooth those they rub up against, either. In one sense they represent a resistance movement - people hiding from the forces of therapy and self-knowledge, keeping a fire burning for bad temper and old-fashioned despair. Certainly part of the spice of Cracker was the sense of Robbie Coltrane's character as an undercover agent, undermining the repair- shop mentality of bad psychiatry from within the profession.

If anybody is already on the PhD trail with this matter, they will have to take in The Negotiator (BBC 1), a series which is unashamedly built on stock foundations. 'I hate offices,' snaps Charlie King, Brian Cox's meaty policeman, 'I'm a thief-taker, shadow-man, stone in their shoes.' Naturally he's the best damned policeman his long-suffering superior has ever encountered. Naturally his late- night microwave meal is interrupted for a call-out to an impromptu charnel- house in a Glasgow tenement. Naturally he has a junior assistant to mildly bully. Naturally he meditates morosely on the human condition, salting his dialogue with pulpit poetry: 'Tell him there's going to be a crack epidemic in this sad, deceitful city and it's no' going to be stopped from a desk.'

Not everything is quite so programmatic in Trevor Preston's script, King's big gimmick - the thing that separates him from all his disenchanted predecessors - is his faith. 'I believe in God,' he says later, an unadorned line which is hardly yet a cliche in detective fiction. He's not a guitars and folk mass type of Christian, more given to a Glasgow kiss than the sign of peace, but that one plot note may save the series yet, may build it into something more than a frame for some stories. Other characters, too, are turned a little in the light so that something unseen can glint briefly - King makes contact with a prostitute he's questioning by picking up on her passion for Robert De Niro, and the idea of filmed violence providing a salve for the real thing snags you momentarily. Some variation of tone would help a bit - too many characters speak with that tough, knowing terseness familiar from detective series - but Cox may carry it off yet.

While Sophie Grigson and her husband munch their way around Europe in Travels a la Carte (C4), Gary Rhodes is making his way around Britain, popping in on local cooks and preparing his own fancified versions of native dishes. The Grigson family outing is a very straightforward affair - find some miraculous family with its own olive grove or an alpine dairy and sample the home cooking of the region: Sophie watches in the kitchen while William goes off to work up an appetite nearby.

Rhodes around Britain (BBC 2) is altogether fancier, tricked out with little conceits and frills. The philosophy of the food is truth to ingredients and lack of pretension. Rhodes calls veal jus 'gravy', for instance, and pours it over an ingenious salad of black pudding, bacon and poached egg. He is happy to make Manchester tart for his footballing heroes. The philosophy of the programme is exactly the opposite. It opened with a little acted vignette of restaurant life and ended with a scene worthy of a Hollywood celebrity tribute. 'This is the best,' said Gary, tucking into fish and chips. 'And so are you Gary,' purred a Nolan Sister, before they all launched into 'Simply the Best'. He's fresh and full of flavour but the chef should be shot for what she's done to him.