TV review: Olivia Colman can do no wrong - But The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (ITV) was a mistake

United States of Television: America in Primetime, Sat, BBC2

It is the considered opinion of this column that Olivia Colman can do no wrong. It's also its considered opinion that she's just made a mistake, a rare one in a career that's so far been marked by what the X Factor crowd would call great song selection. Whether by happy accident or canny judgement, the shows Colman has appeared in have displayed her talents brilliantly, beginning with comedies that showed how vividly she registers, even when she's in the background, to dramas that revealed the intensity of her acting. But I'm not sure you can add The Suspicions of Mr Whicher to the list – a sequel to an earlier dramatisation of Kate Summerscale's book about a notorious case involving a real Victorian detective. If it's any consolation to her, she isn't the only good actor to have been led astray, since the excellent Paddy Considine is back as the moody Whicher, who has left the Met and now appears to take new cases on the basis of personal curiosity and serendipity.

I'm not entirely sure what's gone wrong here. It's written by Neil McKay, who was deservedly nominated for a Bafta for Appropriate Adult, his drama about the interrogation of Fred West, and it doesn't look as if ITV have skimped on the budget. But you can't quite shake the feeling that it's one of those projects that was nobody's first choice. Why was it made? Because the first one performed pretty well, I'm guessing, and there's always a steady market for gas-lamp detection, as Ripper Street recently demonstrated. But that isn't enough to make it fly, and it doesn't help that the plot feels arbitrary in its twists and turns.

Colman plays a woman looking for her missing niece, rescued by Whicher from a den of low coves and mutton-chop-whiskered toughs. When the girl turns up on a mortuary slab, he agrees to find out what's happened to her – a hunt that takes him through a Victorian London framed more by gothic fiction than the historical record. There are glarey nuns who look at him as if he's a flasher and a high-walled asylum presided over by a smoothly villainous alienist. And in scene after scene, people behave in ways that are just a little off, as if the tuning has gone. I'm afraid even the wonderful Olivia Colman can't make the lines seem more than functional, a bit of clockwork to get you to the next plot revelation.

The problem with Whicher as a character may be that he doesn't have enough problems, barring a certain melancholy about past bereavements. Because, as the final episode of The United States of Television: America in Primtime reminded us, we prefer our heroes to be flawed these days, and occasionally deeply so. What was traced here was the trajectory from Dr Kildare – a pin-up of medical integrity – to House, Hugh Laurie's pill-popping misanthrope. It's an arc from white-hat simplicity to psychological ambiguity and – in the case of Dexter and Omar from The Wire – outright criminality. And whereas ethical judgement used to come running through the story, it's now been delegated to the audience. It's been an almost entirely benign development if you value complexity and nuance in the stories you see on screen. But it has to be said that audiences don't always get the judgements right.

The writers of 24 may have intended Jack Bauer to be an ambiguous character, but a vast proportion of the audience took him as a pretty uncomplicated hero, prepared to do what lesser men wouldn't. Ditto Dexter, who implicitly makes the case that it's fine to torture people to death as long as they're the kind of people who like torturing people to death. Hooray for David Simon, who spotted the flaw in the proposition and refused to endorse the vindictive violence that lurks at the heart of that series. It is the considered opinion of this column that he can do no wrong.

twitter.com/tds153

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker