This article was originally published in The Dundee Courier on 25th July 2015.
Witnesses: Wednesday, Channel 4
The Javone Prince Show: Sunday, BBC Two
Shot through an endless drizzle, French thriller Witnesses (Les Temoins) is so irredeemably gloomy it make the average UK cop drama look like a DayGlo bouncy castle pumped with laughing gas.
And that's quite reassuring. So often typecast as sex-fuelled paragons of ineffable cool and glamour, it's good to know that our Gallic cousins are just as miserable as the rest of us.
But is it any better than the average UK cop drama? On the basis of episode one, I'm not entirely sure. By acquiring this six-part series, Channel 4 are obviously hoping to repeat the success of their last French import, The Returned. But that was a stylish and unusual supernatural drama with a compelling central hook. Witnesses is far more generic.
It's certainly atmospheric. The rain-spattered coastal setting is glumly arresting, and the climactic scene involving a suspended trolley car had an unnerving, almost dreamlike quality that one doesn't often see on British television.
Also, despite its clichéd cop show trappings, the mystery at the heart of Witnesses is pleasingly bleak and perverse: three seemingly random corpses are removed from their graves and posed in a show home, like a macabre facsimile of the perfect family. Pourquoi?
What is their connection with the enigmatic former police chief who – and this is odd behaviour, you must admit – keeps a framed photograph of the car crash that killed his wife? And why does the woolly-hatted female protagonist insist on entering patently threatening crime scenes on her own, armed only with a torch? Has she never seen The Killing?
It all adds up to a mildly intriguing riddle, but whether it will eventually pay off is anyone's guess. The heavy-handed fairytale symbolism of a big bad wolf and a little girl in a red duffel coat suggests, worryingly, that the writers have po-faced pretensions which aren't as clever as they think. It's early days, but already I'm beginning to suspect that, for all its surface sophistication, Witnesses may turn out to be a rather daft affair.
It would be nice, in an ideal world, to report that The Javone Prince Show launched a bright new star into the comedy firmament last week. But the world is far from ideal, hence why it gets the painfully uninspired sketch shows it deserves.
A young black comic and actor, Prince is a fairly charming character whose eagerness to please almost makes up for the weakness of his material. But no amount of charm can rescue this tired ragbag of second-hand observations about “the black experience” in Britain today.
A series of sketches about the way some white people behave anxiously and patronisingly around black people was never developed beyond the very basic point it was making. But that didn't stop Prince and his writers from hammering it into the ground.
They also seem to believe that the spectacle of a plummy-voiced white chap speaking street slang/jive talk is fundamentally hilarious. Why else would they steal this already limited joke from Armstrong and Miller?
Berating this good-natured and well-intentioned show gives me no pleasure, but there is just no getting around its objective mediocrity. It's a failure on practically every level.