TELEVISION / Bending the law and distorting the map

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The Independent Culture
IT'S an original title, for starters - 99-1 (ITV). It refers, it says here in the Radio Times, to the tedium / terror ratio that your average detective can expect in an average career. Thanks to the lead given by those well-meaning liberals at Carlton, there's been an absurd proliferation of crime on television. If any of them accurately reflected that ratio they'd be off the air before you could say, 'Please sign this concocted confession just here.' It's up to the documentary makers to cover the 99. 99-1 concentrates its attention on the 1, and doesn't make a bad job of it.

It's hard to be so keen on the subtitle of the first episode: 'Doing the Business' could refer to just about any episode of any cop drama since they showed the door to Dixon of Dock Green and in came the vogue for what a critic would call vernacular and a scriptwriter would call verbals. The 'business', in this case, is a very modern one - or at least modern to police drama: bent coppering. Mick Raynor (a scowling Leslie Grantham) always seems to get his man, and his methods may or may not have something to do with being creative in the interview room. Last night he was rumbled and offered the chance by a lugubrious controller played by Robert Stephens to go deep undercover and penetrate an organised crime network. At first he said no, but then a young colleague called Preston, acting on a tip-off meant for Raynor, was murdered.

We started with a body too, hanging upside down from the ceiling of a vacant floor in a very tall building in Docklands. Investigation swiftly revealed that this corpse used to be an Irish navvy. 'What do you think?' said Preston at the scene of the crime - he was still with us at this stage. 'I think someone killed him,' said Raynor, who like all his peers doesn't suffer fools gladly.

Good freelance that he is, Raynor followed up some leads on his own. An old Irish crony dressed as Santa chucked a brick through a shop window in front of a policeman so he can advise Raynor in the privacy of his cell that the man they're looking for is called Billy Pink. Here Terry Johnson's crunchy script beggared belief by having Raynor write down the name, but not the address, on his pack of Embassy's. Any detective worth his creaky Merc would be able to remember a handle like Billy Pink, especially if he didn't need to write down the name of the Hackney tower block.

When Raynor - the klutz] - left the cigarettes in the gents, Preston retrieved them and dutifully journeyed to his death at the hands of a gruesome bloke in pink shades. A shame, because Preston was delicately played by Robert Carlyle, that nice young Glaswegian builder from Riff Raff, but then the point was that you were meant to like him.

The jury's still out on Raynor, though he's already been found guilty by one, and slung out of the force. Like practically all TV 'tecs, he works hard at making you dislike him by showing the standard failings: he's corrupt, he's a useless dad, and he's late for funerals. But you have to feel sorry for a nut so apparently tough who, though alone on Christmas Eve, bothers with the ritual of roasting his dinner and then picks at it while watching a romantic old movie. If he's 99 parts Grantham granite, he's one part big softie.

There's a phrase that seems to crop up in most editions of Dispatches (C4) and that phrase is 'Dispatches has obtained crucial documents that prove . . . '. Last night's crucial documents described how the government of Croatia has acquired a barren slice of Bosnia in a manner normally associated with Serbs. Nationalism pretends to be rational, but in a war with three sides all riven by faction reason was an early casualty. One Croat leader filmed in front of a map - they're always in front of a map, which is a new nation's ID card - came up with some justification or other for killing Muslims. The camera lingered and he looked down sheepishly, as if he knew he was conjuring morality right out of thin air, or as if he had just extracted a confession out of himself.