TV review: Vexed by Howard Overman

BBC 2 has made a rare stab at drama with the new cop show Vexed. It’s gone down surprisingly badly, with some reviewers hailing it as representing all that is worst about British television. Which illustrates the sad truth that most TV reviewers are not especially interested in, or knowledgable about, TV drama. Vexed is a real winner, that seems to be picking up some word of mouth support… unfortunately it seems unlikely that it will be back for a second series.

Vexed is a chalk’n’cheese buddy cop show, and there’s no point pretending it’s massively original, but it is incredibly well-done. Toby Stephens’ Jack is the opposite of “those maverick cops with their averageflasks and boring unorthodox ways”: for him, the job of solving crime doesn’t dominate his life, it gets in its way. Lucy Punch’s altogether more professional Kate is capable of being just as bad, under his influence. Both the leads are great, and Kate in particular has enough pathos to keep the show grounded.

In may ways this is far more a modern version of The Sweeney than Life On Mars ever managed: it’s centred around a buddy relationship and gloriously unprofessional, un-pc policing. It balances that with the thick slab of knowing humour that’s essential to make that sort of thing work these days: its mix of humour, excitement and actual mystery (not the most puzzling mysteries ever seen, but more effective at keeping me guessing about the villain than LoM, or more highbrow efforts like Five Days) is expertly judged by writer Howard Overman.

Sadly, the production company responsible for the show, Greenlit, has just gone out of business and media reports suggest there may be some wrangling over who owns the rights to what. I hope that doesn’t prevent the BBC from commissioning more episodes, and that they are smart enough to ignore the bizarrely negative reviews. But between critical reaction and legal problems, the odds seem to be stacked against any more episodes being made than the three currently being shown.

Be sure to catch up with the first two episodes on iPlayer; the final episode airs on Sunday, 9pm, BBC2.