Mammon: Friday, More4
Inspector De Luca: Saturday, BBC Four
Home to cult hits such as The Killing and The Bridge, BBC Four is the crime-sodden kingdom of gloomy Nordic noir. So it's little wonder that their rivals have recently tried to grab some of that subtitled treasure for themselves. After all, these quality imports are relatively cheap to acquire, but very popular among discerning viewers. It's the sort of equation that TV executives drool over.
Channel 4 gambled wisely when they aired French supernatural drama The Returned, which turned out to be one of the TV highlights of 2013. Flushed with that success, they now give us Mammon, an intriguing Norwegian thriller about journalistic integrity versus corporate corruption.
Our hero is investigative journalist Peter Veras, who uncovers evidence of fraud involving Norway's elite. Unperturbed by the fact that one of the alleged fraudsters is his own brother – they hardly seemed close – he ploughed on with the story in spite of a police report claiming that no crimes had been committed.
But why did his brother resign? And if Peter really is such a hot-shot, why didn't he pick up on the screamingly obvious clues that brother dearest was about to commit suicide? He practically had “DEAD SOON” tattooed on his face. As the episode progressed, I began to suspect that, far from being a leading light of Norway's Fourth Estate, Peter Veras is in fact a blundering idiot.
He hadn't even verified the source of his story. No wonder he was so shaken when it turned out to be his own brother, who was presumably trying to bring down the system from within. That's possibly why he left behind a series of Treasure Hunt-style clues for Peter to chase, which resulted in him donning scuba diving gear and searching for something or other in a roadside lake.
The episode climaxed while he was out on this goose chase, when another millionaire embezzler crashed his car into the lake before shooting himself in the head. It was an unexpected turn of events, I'll grant you that, but it still felt like a ridiculously laboured attempt to create an explosive cliffhanger. That sort of nonsense is acceptable in a comic book thriller like 24, but Mammon appears to think of itself as more meaningful than that. Why else would it begin with a sombre quote from the Book of Revelation?
Its more wayward tendencies aside, this slow-burning and occasionally quite suspenseful drama does show some promise. With its weighty themes of guilt and morality – it's no coincidence that Peter's father is a priest – it may well add up to something quite substantial. I just hope Peter stops behaving like the Norwegian equivalent of a depressed Frank Spencer.
There was more high-powered corruption in BBC Four's latest foreign import, Inspector De Luca, only this time it involved the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini.
Set in 1930s Italy on the eve of World War II, it squanders a potentially interesting period setting with a lugubrious pace and anaemic plotting. It's like watching an armchair age in slow motion. De Luca himself is your standard lonely detective: driven yet subdued, a haunted man apart. I'd quite happily never see this archetype again.
It's enough to make you long for a cop drama about a jovial detective who lives in a bouncy castle. Obviously I wouldn't like that either, but at least it would be different.