Channel: BBC One
Cast: Jason Isaacs, Amanda Abbington, Zawe Ashton, Millie Innes
The first season of Case Histories really caught my attention. It gave us the cynical character of Jackson Brodie, perfectly presented by Jason Isaacs. He is tough, caring and competent, the kind of guy you immediately get behind when watching the Private Investigator in action. The mysteries were well thought out, Brodie sometimes juggling two or three cases at the same time, during each two-part episode. There were some good sub-characters too, with Isaac finding good partners to trade banter with in his teenage daughter (Innes), his straight-talking assistant (Ashton), and the one that got away, who also happens to be a DI (Abbington). I didn’t realise the show had been commissioned for a second season, as everything about it screamed an one-off BBC drama, but when I heard it was starting again, I got excited. Sadly, the second season of Case Histories was a very disappointing sequel.
First of all, rather than three stories crammed into six episodes, this season was given three 90 minute episodes. This meant that we lost the half-way cliff-hanger that got us wanting to tune in next week. It also meant that we didn’t get the break in between stories. An hour and a half is far too long to dedicate to a crime thriller. Sherlock gets away with it, because Moffat created a fast-paced, humorous tone. Case Histories is slower and darker, meaning that it kind of became a chore to make it through the entire episode in one sitting.
Another thing that bothered me was the fact that the relationships that made the first season so compelling had been played down. Zawe Ashton, despite being one of the best actresses in the cast, is subjected to little more than a cameo each episode. She features to complain about Brodie’s self-destructive nature, throw a little strop and then carry on with her job. Don’t get me wrong, Ashton makes the little story she has been given work and seem a little less minimalist than I have made it out to be, but she is far more talented that the writers seem to realise. Amanda Abbington at the very least gets some character development, but her quarrels with Jackson are beginning to feel a bit clichéd. The final episode of the season throws in several good character stories amongst the crime mystery, but it feels like a token effort, rather than a sincere attempt to make something out of the show’s cast.
Also, I felt that we are missing the real Brodie charm. In each episode of the last season, there was always one moment, where we realised just how hard Jackson Brodie was. It would be little more than a quick skirmish, but the charm was that the fight was so underplayed. In one episode, Brodie was being strangled from behind, a situation that would mean certain death for most people, but he weaselled out of it, with some dirty fighting techniques. I didn’t want more action, per se, but I wanted to feel like Brodie could handle some action, rather than actually experiencing any. It was almost as though the writers were writing for any random British detective mystery, rather than embracing the unique traits of Case Histories and Jackson Brodie.
Not that Jason Isaacs was underplaying the character. He remains the best thing about this show, making Brodie feel more world-weary than ever. He seems to have a much better grip on the character than the writers do, really portraying this Northern hard man well. Sure, the script keeps giving him rehashed scenarios to work with (sabotaging relationships, because he hurts people close to him), but he tries his hardest to make it work. He is best when underacting: in the first episode, he stumbles across a dead body and his reaction is a frown and a very Northern ‘oh no!’ It worked really well and showed us that Isaac can work with very little, something that appears to be a required skill on this show.
Not that it is all terrible. The actual mysteries are intriguing to sink our teeth into and I enjoy the private investigator approach to solving them. It throws up some interesting characters and some great motives. Sure, they were a little easier to second-guess in this season, but I still enjoyed following them. There was a small, nagging feeling that Case Histories has downgraded itself into a typical BBC crime drama. The mysteries were little more than missing girl or accidental murder: I kind of wanted more of a personal touch to separate it from some of the other shows. The third episode tries to raise the stakes slightly, but it feels half-hearted. By the time the writers throw some interesting set-pieces at us, we have kind of stopped caring.
Final verdict: Sadly the second season feels underwhelming, as though the writers aren’t trying too hard. Jason Isaacs remains a solid lead.