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You find an admission that America and Scandinavia are now producing better television only in the willingness of our companies to, well, "borrow" their ideas. I am not going to mock. I don't mind British commissioning editors ripping off foreigners. There is no copyright on ideas, and originality is overrated. The real question is not whether a British company has stolen but whether they have stolen with style; whether they are cat burglars or muggers; whether they can make something new out of someone else's idea or just smash and grab it.

The most obvious smash and grab was The Hour: the BBC's — well, let us be polite — homage to Mad Men. But not content with having the arrival of questioning journalism in the television news of the 1950s, the arrival of women in the workplace, and the Suez crisis and the end of empire as subjects, it had to throw in spy and murder mysteries. It looked to me like yet another example of micro-managing by the executive priesthood, interfering in an art form it doesn't understand. You could never imagine the producers of Mad Men telling the writers, "OK you've got the first ripples of the second wave of feminism, you've got our fascination with how swiftly our attitudes have changed in the last half century, you've got sex, you've got good plotlines, but that's not enough. You've got to throw in a murder. You will have no time to develop the story, it won't make sense, but don't worry: it will keep the gormless punters watching. Everyone knows that detective dramas are the only dramas they watch."

The patronised audience did not watch The Hour, however, but reached for the remote. Viewing figures fell to 1.24 million an episode by the second series. A baffled BBC did not understand why. "We loved the show," a spokesman wailed, as he announced that the BBC had binned the third series.

The BBC's Mayday and ITV's Broadchurch are much, much better. Both are "indebted" to the success of Scandinavian drama — to put it mildly. Like the first series of The Killing, both begin with the murder of a teenager. Both follow the Danes' example by showing grief and suspicion enveloping everyone the victims knew. The critics thought Broadchurch the superior effort, but as it is still running, I will look at Mayday. The critics were sniffy about it, I suspect, because it was too bold a work for their conventional tastes. There was hardly a sympathetic character in the five-hour show. After the 14-year-old May Queen disappeared in a small Sussex town, all the main male characters were suspects. Even the innocents were such sleazy men you felt that society should intern them just to be on the safe side.

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March 29th, 2013
1:03 PM
"Sophie Okonedo was as good as I have ever seen her as the wife of the police officer who killed the girl. The look of hard determination on her face as she decided to save her family by framing an innocent if repellent man..." But didn't the "innocent if repellent man" rape her in an earlier encounter? And that's why she had no problem in planting the evidence - the hair of the teenager her husband had murdered, that she'd found after her husband had stored it in the loft of their house, in the rucksack of her rapist?

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