Grace Dent on TV: The Fall's detective is too beautiful for such a game of horror

The Fall is a series devoted to the stalking and grisly murder of brunettes who are bold or daft enough not to carry an assault rifle at all times

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The Independent Culture

It has been a week for not sleeping soundly.

Two discombobulating things appeared on my screen this week. One was the opening episode of The Fall, series two: that show in which Paul (Jamie Dornan), the ridiculously handsome serial killer, plays an unending game of cat and mouse with Stella, the aloof, aesthetically beguiling detective (Gillian  Anderson). It seems a flimsy jibe to pick on their looks, but their collective beauty has an impact for me. It’s difficult to squeeze the requisite amount of gritty horror from The Fall when Stella arrives at work in a perfectly tailored, size-six police  uniform, her alabaster skin mesmerisingly lit by the station’s lavatory lights. Then it’s over to Paul, brooding by the docks in Hedi Slimane Autumn/Winter 2014.

There was a lot to be said for Prime Suspect, in which DCI Tennison – albeit beautiful – frequently resembled a woman who’d had an all-night argument with two litres of Gordon’s gin, and the creeps she took in for questioning were as bedraggled as the corpse they were connected to. Prime Suspect left the viewer in want of a hot shower. The Fall leaves me in need of a look through the Matchesfashion.com designer-dresses site, and a hunt for a better Pilates teacher.

Episode one of the returning series sees Paul – who had been a very naughty man indeed in series one – still very much at large. The whole of Northern Ireland’s police force is hunting for him. He litters clues behind him like a ticker-tape  parade, his photofit is so gorgeously accurate it’s like a passport booth snap, and during fits of ennui he is prone to call Stella, teasing, “not caught me yet, have you?”. The case continues. It would continue a damn sight more quickly if Stella ever communicated any of her important findings to the other detectives, instead of staring silently – the camera honouring every angle of her irresistible pulchritude – mumbling a few vague words and slinking off, seething. She is always seething. Seething about what, we never quite know. This seems like a jolly rum way to run a  police station.

Of course, all this quasi-silliness is light relief for me, as I’m a terrible scaredy-cat and The Fall is a series devoted to the stalking and grisly  murder of brunettes who are bold or daft enough not to carry an assault rifle at all times, even in bed. I’m not sure how a woman can prevent being murdered by Paul, the charming bereavement counsellor, skilful cat-burglar and amateur corpse-manicurist.

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John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in The Fall (Helen Sloan/BBC)

In the opening episode a leggy beauty – whom Paul has met on a train – informed the killer that she’d dyed her hair blond simply to avoid him. Now, no woman, even fictional, ever “deserves” to die, but this one sat opposite Paul for around two hours, gazing at his face, while he doodled a beard onto the photofit on the front of her local newspaper. “Does this look like me?” he said, passing the now perfect masterpiece to the clueless traveller. Yes it did, she agreed, amicably, before carrying on to reveal the minutiae  of her life to Northern Ireland’s most famous  psychopath. It was like an educational video demonstrating Darwin’s survival of the fittest. The episode closed with Paul breaking into another home after midnight, dragging another brunette from her bed and threatening to kill her children. Stella will be quietly livid.

Oddly, it wasn’t The Fall that left me majorly shaken this week, but rather Adult Swim’s ridiculously successful short film Too Many Cooks. In America, Adult Swim – a cacophony of weird, cerebrally punishing amateur animations, spoof infomercials, comedy that isn’t quite comedy – shares channel space with the Cartoon Network. In the UK, Adult Swim has been shoved around various digital channels.

It is the sort of thing you come across accidentally at 4am, waking the next day unsure if you really spent an hour watching a plastic child’s  superhero X-Man spoof called Robot Chicken: Sausage Fest. Or Squidbillies, the show about  anthropomorphic hillbilly squid.

Adult Swim is a home for the unexpected. Their nocturnal berth and distinct dearth of audience permits a sense of lawlessness. At 4am last week, when Casper Kelly’s 11-minute spoof Eighties  sit-com Too Many Cooks first aired, none of the creators imagined it would cause one of the  internet’s biggest viral blow-outs of 2014.

Without spoiling it for the uninitiated, Kelly sets out to capture the bland but chipper, asinine manner of the Eighties and Nineties US family sitcoms that buzz forever in the background of a generation’s childhood. Kelly’s video loops, repeating its theme tune, with a mass of actors – in fact far “too many cooks” – joining the cast. But something is wrong in Kelly’s landscape. This world isn’t stranger-danger proofed. A million theories on what the whole brilliant mess is about is available on the internet. Rather than The Fall, it was Too Many Cooks that had me checking under my bed and sleeping with the downstairs light on. I can cope with an evil Jamie Dornan, but there’s something truly unsettling about a gentle Nineties family comedy that has gone very, very wrong.

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