Murderland, ITV1
Modern Family, Sky 1

Robbie Coltrane makes a welcome return, but haven't we seen this character somewhere before?

As one cuddly TV treasure departs, so another returns. In recent days, ITV's drama department has given audiences two reasons to be thankful – not a feeling it inspires very often, it must be said.

First came news of the axing of the ubiquitous Stephen Fry's monumentally twee comedy drama Kingdom. Then, on Monday, up popped the decidedly not-ubiquitous-enough Robbie Coltrane, taking on his first small-screen role in three years in the entirely comforting Murderland.

That may seem an odd way to describe a three-part crime thriller suffused with psychiatric trauma and sexual deviance, until you count the nostalgic glow induced by watching Coltrane as DI Douglas Hain. This hard-drinking, loose-cannon investigator naturally recalled Coltrane's other hard-drinking, loose-cannon investigator, Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald of Cracker. OK, so Fitz was a genius criminal psychologist, while Hain is a downtrodden middle-ranking policeman. And where Fitz, despite his flaws, managed to hold on to a long-suffering wife and children, Cain's only companion – a dog – was being committed to the soil as the credits rolled. A Cracker topped with an extra dollop of bleakness, then, if that is possible.

In any case, this was not simply the Coltrane show. Murderland is one of those multi-perspective affairs favoured by those who are looking to spice up the tired whodunnit format. The "it" was the unsolved murder of a prostitute, found bloodied and battered in her home and sporting a provocative red dress (that Jezebel!); this week, the story was relayed from the viewpoint of Carrie, the daughter who may just have seen the killer – or at least his shoes – before the act. Fifteen years on, the adult Carrie is seen scarpering from her own wedding on the hunt for closure. Cue the flashbacks in which her teenage self is seen helping Coltrane's Hain crack the case having entered "murderland" – apparently, the psychological state in which a bereaved child becomes crime-obsessive – a cod-psychological scriptwriter's invention if ever I heard one.

David Pirie's script is an artfully spare creation, offering the kind of elliptical intrigue that the Rashomon-style structure demanded. One gripe, though: did the suspects all have to be middle-aged men with a paedophiliac aura, or is the promise of a child-abuse plotline simply the only thing that keeps audiences hooked these days? Meanwhile, Coltrane's morose but empathetic performance was well matched by Bel Powley's compellingly odd Carrie – an apt character name since her saucer eyes, pale demeanour, and frisson of repressed rage occasionally suggest an uneasy kinship with Stephen King's telekinetic heroine. By turns haughtily precocious and blankly inscrutable, even her jarringly Roedean-ish accent only adds to her sense of otherness. Anyway, what Murderland lacks in innovation it so far makes up for in execution. And proceedings closed with a jolting cliffhanger did enough to keep me on board for episode two and suggests Coltrane may yet surprise us.

Talking of surprises, I have to admit to having ignored Modern Family when it premiered last week, solely on the basis that it was showing on Sky 1 – well, that and the fact that its name made it sound like a US equivalent of the chronically unfunny BBC sitcom My Family. But having now caught up with the first two episodes, all this channel-fixated bigot can say is: what do I know?

Yes, Sky 1 does do funny, and not just funny in a Ross-Kemp-on-Gangs-after-10-gallons-of-paint-stripper way: your brain cells might actually approve. Modern Family is a mockumentary about three diverse but inter-related households: one straight and two-point-four; one mixed-raced and May-to-December; and one gay with a newly adopted Vietnamese baby. It plays like the bastard American offspring of The Office and Outnumbered, with a dash of homiletic sentimentality thrown in for good measure. And if its suburban, middle-American milieu is a well-trodden one, it is lifted out of the ordinary by a steady stream of jagged quips (e.g. one of the characters says of his stepson: "He keeps us grounded ... like fog in an airport"); some wonderfully staged set pieces (said baby being introduced to its extended family via The Lion King's "Circle of Life"); and performances that struck a finely wrought balance between caricature and naturalism. Best of all was Ty Burrell's self-confessed "cool dad", a Ricky Gervais in Gap clothing, whose performance of a High School Musical song-and-dance routine offered living proof that parents should neither be seen nor heard.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk