Some viewers are allergic to the cliché. For them, the recourse to old archetypes is symbolic of an inexcusable laziness on the part of writers. But the first television drama, The Queen’s Messenger, first aired in 1928, which means we’ve had nearly a century of television at this point. And every year that has involved more and more content being produced. So now, if you don’t come across a few snaps, you’re doing something so weird it might as well have been produced by an extraterrestrial visitor. All the same, ITV’s new crime drama Ridley hits shot after shot with such precise aplomb that even the most resilient viewers will have watery eyes and itchy skin. Achoo.
Adrian Dunbar – owner of Course of actionThe saddest eyes and most energetic “divorced dad” amid fierce competition is Alex Ridley, a retired detective residing in a scenic northern location. Ridley was forced to call him a day early, after his wife and teenage daughter were killed in a house fire. “How does your retirement look? asks Jean Dixon, another ex-brass played by Elizabeth Berrington. “It takes a little getting used to, all that time on your hands,” Ridley replies. He doesn’t need to worry any longer: his protege DI Carol Farman (The fall(Bronagh Waugh) brings him in as a consultant to help investigate the murder of a farmer. With that, this father figure is back in the game for one last job. But can you teach new tricks to an old dog?
Dead woman? Check. Dead child? Check. Seeing their faces on strangers before you wake up and realize it’s not Actually their? Check. You can play cliché bingo at home. That case he never solved? Check. Unexplainable extracurricular hobby for a detective? Check. Confusing Scandinavian interior design? Check. Individually, none of these things are unpleasant. As with anything that becomes mundane, the process of this overuse inevitably begins with a quality core. Grieving Detectives, for example, bring an existential angst and questioning interiority to the mystery genre, creating a depth inaccessible to, say, Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot.
But cliché must be deployed sparingly, and, unfortunately, the team behind Ridley – at not make up a sentence – use all the tricks in the book. The most unusual thing about the show is, in fact, its format: four feature films and standalone mysteries. No cliffhangers, just a sad detective solving murders before the credits roll. “You can’t solve them all, Ridley,” Dixon naively informs him. “There is no point in dwelling on the past.” But new crimes and cold cases are all fair game for Dunbar’s detective. And Dunbar, along with Waugh, is good company for the duration of these long episodes. They have an individual charisma and a collective chemistry. The first episode ends with Ridley performing Richard Hawley’s “Coles Corner” in a packed jazz club. It’s a weird and compelling sequence that almost justifies the show’s use of a creak Columbus-esque score.
With stand-alone episodes and capsules, the overarching story becomes increasingly important. “He was looking for me,” laments Ridley, of the man who inadvertently killed his wife and daughter. “It was I who should have burned that night.” For all the depressing gravity Dunbar brings to the role, it’s hard to be emotionally affected as we, the audience, are parachuted into Ridley’s life through multiple stages of the grieving process. In fact, it seems cheap – a cynical synthesis of things that have worked before. An eye of Wallanderan arm of lewisfingernails marcella. For this reason, some viewers will appreciate Ridley. They will find it familiar and comforting, which in difficult times is not a bad thing. But a hug from Frankenstein’s monster is still not a good idea.