Television Review

THE THING we all ought to like about Maisie Raine (BBC1) is that the star detective is played by Pauline Quirke. You may have private reservations about Quirke, and in evidence I place before the jury the tirelessly awful Birds of a Feather. But in a week in which Bad Girls (Tue ITV) argued that a woman can be young, beautiful, dress glamorously and still be considered ideal casting for a prison wing-governor, there's one thing you can say for Quirke. She's not beautiful. She doesn't dress to kill. According to Miriam Margolyes, appearing on a profile for Omnibus (Wed BBC1) of Julie Walters, a character actor is someone you don't want to sleep with - Walters being the honourable exception. Quirke is television drama's token size 16, the closest the small screen gets to admitting that in real life, large people are not all fringe players and background colour. When they made a series called Real Women (and they've made another one) Quirke was the most real by a street.

I'm still not certain that I'm warming to Maisie Raine, though, and that's because, having gone to all the trouble of getting a real woman to play the lead, it has placed her at the heart of an unreal drama. The name, for a start, is straight out of a dog-eared paperback. It's not the surname I object to: Raine by name, permanent low-pressure system by nature. Fair enough. But Maisie? No one's called Maisie, apart from in hard-boiled detective fiction. DI Raine is, accordingly, given to cartoon-book gestures. "I am about to get very loud indeed," she'll say, and you can almost see the capital letters in the speech bubble. When she wants an underling to button his lip, she lobs a reel of Sellotape across the incident room with the cheery exhortation: "Stick that across your mouth, please." In last night's plot, the villain was a drug-dealing pimp who wanted to kill a prostitute he suspected of grassing him up to the fuzz (see, it's catching). He himself had been lobbed through a window by some disgruntled business associates, and when you saw him limping, backlit, along the hospital corridor towards his prey, you were explicitly encouraged to mistake his stiff-jointed gait for Frankenstein's monster.

The show has attempted to contain some of the more cartoonish elements, to Raine them in, if you will. Maisie's squalid live-in brother has succumbed to the axe known as emigration, and the over-educated supervixen who was Raine's immediate superior in the first series has been transferred. She has not been forgotten, though. "Clever people, your Oxford types, are often the most stupid," opines DI Raine. DI stands for Derides Intellectuals. She's a great one for native wit is Maisie. She has an allotment, and in this episode, she helped locate a body under the garden shed thanks to her deep knowledge of grasses. A useful attribute in a copper, I'm sure we can all agree. In the flat she's just moved into, it looks very much as if she is going to form a light-entertainment relationship with a wise old cleaner, who's even more common than she is. The daily will be a sort of Fool to her Lear. Not that Maisie would have the first clue who those two might be.

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