Shiny Shelf


By Mags L Halliday on 08 July 2010

ITV1’s new drama, ‘Identity’ isn’t much cop. Ironically, for something about identity fraud, it’s guilty of stealing other shows’ set-ups.

You can see the pitch: a specialist crime unit that uses technology and psychological insight to solve mysteries. Headed up by a tough career woman who defends a maverick in her team while three supporting team members do the grunt work and argue amongst themselves.

You can see the pitch because you’ll have already seen the same set-up in a load of other shows. It’s ‘Lie to Me’, it’s ‘House’, it’s ‘Castle’. It’s even ‘Luther’.

With a cast including Aiden Gillen, Shaun Parkes, Holly Aird and Keeley Hawes, the formulaic premise shouldn’t be a problem. Drama, like all fiction, can use familiar set-ups to good effect. It makes it easier for the viewer to understand the group dynamic and saves exposition time so we can focus on the puzzle of the week.

With ‘Identity’ it’s a shame the script didn’t spend more time on exposition.

Instead the team is introduced with such broad brush strokes that you wince. The supporting characters pause during an investigation to expound their quirks in clunky dollops of implausible – and long – dialogue. They may as well have little badges saying “the stubborn one”, “the sensitive one” and “the geeky one”.

This kind of character-by-numbers was rightly spoofed in ‘House’ when he set up is new team in 2007, so quite why it’s so cack-handedly done in a drama in 2010 is the real mystery.

Then I noticed the copyright date: 2009. ITV have had this series on the shelf for at least six months, and the whole premise of it suggests they had the scripts even longer. Identity theft – the central premise of the show – was a hot topic in the press several years ago.

My bank isn’t shy of freezing my account if there’s a suspect payment on it, so quite how the thief in the first episode of ‘Identity’ was able to drain someone’s accounts to the tune of hundreds of thousands is a mystery.

One suspect only pays for things with cash in shops but that’s OK because the team can track his movements through use of his Nectar card. Except if you didn’t want to be traced, would you really whip out your Tesco Clubcard whilst buying some Smarties? It’s just shoddy.

Then there’s the bizarre filming choices. I can cope with a massive house in a wide, empty street allegedly being in windy old Highgate. I can cope with the bland modern apartment blocks. I can just about live with the idea there is a massive modern Academy school just south of Oxford Street.

But we’re told the identity theft unit is under-resourced and not supported by its superiors. So how can it afford offices with a view of the Gherkin (i.e. in some of the most expensive office real estate in the country)?

Maybe they saved money by skimping on the number of chairs in the office? Cases are discussed with characters either sitting on desks, leaning on windowsills or walking. There is a lot of walking/talking to show these are people of action.

The leads appear to have been given contrasting notes on the tone of the show. Keeley Hawes manages a new level of blankness: she’s more animated in adverts for face cream than she is here. Her character primarily walks around in a too-tight cream skirt and stares at people.

Aiden Gillen, in contrast, has dialled it up to eleven. They want maverick, they’ll get it. He delivers his overlong lines without pausing for breath and if there’s an opportunity to deliver his trademark smirk, he’ll take it. I like Aiden Gillen – I like all the cast – so it hurts to see him trying desperately to inject some animation into this limp show.

ITV can do drama. It produced ‘Cracker’, which is practically the template for all modern “maverick and cop” shows. It brought us ‘Prime Suspect’. It can do comfortable murder drama like ‘Midsomer Murders’ or ‘Poirot’.

But its attempts to produce drama modelled on others’ successes (either American procedurals like this, or British fantasy like ‘Primeval’) just never work. You can always see what they were copying, and where they went wrong.

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