As you may well have gathered by now, I like TV detectives. I like ‘em a whole bunch. But occasionally, I find one I simply cannot learn to love. And that is entirely the case with ITV’s Vera. 6 million or so people apparently watch each episode, and yet I can’t shake the belief that they are playing a hoax on the rest of us.
Because Vera is a thoroughly perplexing series. DCI Vera Stanhope appears to have no discernible policing skills at all: she can’t run after suspects because, excellent though Brenda Blethyn obviously is, Vera doesn’t dress for speed. She doesn’t get on with her colleagues, shouting and screeching at them in roughly equal measure, till you start hearing the word ‘tribunal’ thrumming in your ears every time she shrieks or hurls paperwork at them.
She panics when there is any possibility of peril, which is perfectly understandable in a woman who has worn a shapeless hat rather than anything bullet-proof, but not ideal in a police officer. All of which would be legitimate criticisms of Inspector Frost, too, except that he is an astute detective, in spite of his shambolic manner.
Vera, sadly, is not. She tends to work out who the killer is only when every other suspect is either dead or badly injured. And occasionally, only after one of her underlings (handsome yet tiresome Sergeant Joe Ashworth) has followed the sound of an injured witness to the top of a flight of stairs leading to a cellar, before being inevitably shoved down them and locked in himself. So not only is Vera a crummy detective, but her colleagues haven’t even bothered to watch Psycho.
Given the high proportion of Vera’s cases which emanate from an earlier unsolved or mis-solved case, the temptation is to believe that if you were planning to commit a murder, the north-east of England is really the best place to do it. Chances are, they’ll blame it on a crazy lady (Telling Tales, 1,2), or fail to solve the crime till they bump into the murderer digging up the corpse herself (The Crow Trap, 1, 2), many years later.
I admit that season 2 improved a bit, mainly because any time there is a murder suspect who can be described as a beekeeper with leukaemia, the Dr Seuss bit of my brain perks up no end. But much as I was hoping to be converted, I feel I cannot recommend Vera for much more than the beautiful landscape in which it’s set.
Iconic? Sadly not. Though Vera’s self-mocking humour saves it from being truly dreadful. They used to plant rowan trees to ward off witches, she is told. ‘Not working then, is it?’ she grimly replies. ‘Here I am…’
Duffers? If only Blethyn had someone her own size to act against. If there’s to be a third season, more guest stars like Gina McKee and Daniela Nardini, please.