HERE is a serious moral dilemma: with every episode of so many TV series — especially the lavish crime thrillers that TV companies nowadays regard as the pinnacle of their achievement — available to the viewer from the moment that its first episode is broadcast, do I watch them all so that I can give you a complete and balanced assessment, or should I, faithful to my self-imposed discipline of living in the present moment, confine myself to episodes already shown, keeping you and me both in the dark about how the show will develop?
As I have to juggle the evening commitments of, currently, five parishes, the decision is usually made for me: finding the time to watch even current broadcasts is tricky enough, but, with an unusual spate of free evenings, I have binge-watched several to the bitter end.
I mean “bitter end”, because a common characteristic of this genre is that they start well, setting up intriguing mysteries, strong characters, and compelling plots — but then fizzle out disappointingly, the gaps of probability in the storyline gaping wider and wider; the characters revealing twists of behaviour without any reasonable preparation; and the fictional plot driving everything rather than presenting us, as we deserve, with a satisfying resolution, a surprising conclusion that makes us work back through the story and realise that all along there were clues and pointers to the eventual revelation.
Hidden Assets (from 15 January) is the latest in BBC4’s Saturday-night imports that enable us to learn, via subtitles, a foreign language. As this production is Irish, it is not as foreign as all that, apart from the scenes set in Belgium. Most of it is terrific, with a magnificent heroine and an intriguing innovation: she works not in CID or on the beat, but for the CAB: the Criminal Assets Bureau, whose task is to trace and recover the baddies’ loot. In other words, they are accountants combing through bank statements and company records. To solve any crime, she says, follow the money.
Remember all the stewardship sermons that you’ve heard, or possibly delivered: what we actually do with our cash reveals the truth about ourselves? The trail uncovers drug-smuggling, diamond-trading, and terrorist atrocity; but the final scenes (see above) pile on far too much material from nowhere.
Rules of the Game (BBC1, from 11 January) started just as compellingly: a new HR director began to uncover endemic histories of abuse, coercion, and criminality in an apparently happy family business. Alas, each revelation broke more decisively the bounds of probability.
Actual abuse was laid bare in Ghislaine, Prince Andrew and the Paedophile (ITV, Tuesday of last week). Pretty girls’ being groomed, seduced, and abandoned is no new phenomenon, but respecting the lives thoroughly wrecked in this particularly disgraceful story deserves longer and deeper analysis.