More often than not ITV always excels when it comes to producing a good crime drama. The ridiculously popular Vera and Lewis sit alongside such gems as the critically acclaimed Broadchurch. But every now and then the channel produce a rare dud and a case in point is their newest crime drama Chasing Shadows. On the surface a drama about a brilliant detective assisting the Missing Persons Bureau sounds like a fine idea but in practise the results are very different.
The main reason why Chasing Shadows doesn’t work is that the lead character is neither likeable nor particularly compelling. We first meet DS Sean Stone when he successfully tracks down a serial killer but is too late to help the victim. Sean’s rather abrasive style doesn’t impress his bosses especially when he criticises the way they handled the aforementioned case during a press conference. Although we’ve had socially inept crime solvers in the past, most of them have had endearing qualities of some kind but I struggled to find any in Sean. His insistence that people use the phrase multiple murderers instead of serial killers almost becomes something of a running joke and at times I felt I was watching some sort of spoof. There’s obviously the suggestion that Sean is autistic and indeed his colleagues do discuss the fact that his inability to communicate could be medical. However this is never explicitly stated either way and its left to the audience to assume whether Sean is autistic or not. Something else that’s never explained is the fact that Sean appears to have a carer of some sort who is the only person who is able to deal with his peculiarities. It seems as if the mysterious Adele is at least attempting to help Sean deal with new people although she’s equally at home cooking for him and doing his ironing.
Sean’s behaviour at the press conference sees his bosses transform him to missing persons in order to help track down the multiple murderers that he seems obsessed with. Sean’s reluctant partner is the ever-so-lovely Ruth Hattersley who tries her darnedest to connect with him on a personal level. Their partnership doesn’t get off to a brilliant start when he refuses to share a car with her claiming that he likes to think when he drives. Ruth is a single mother to an incredibly annoying child who is also obsessed with serial killers and thinks it’s brilliant that she’s teaming up with Sean. Meanwhile Ruth’s single-minded mother, played by Lynda Baron, only wants to know if Sean would be a potential romantic match for her daughter. Whilst Ruth seemingly tolerates Sean because of his supposed brilliance, DCI Carl Prior isn’t as forgiving. Sean and Ruth come into contact with Carl whilst on their first investigation, into the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Taylor Davis. The hot-headed Carl knows of Sean through reputation alone and the pair clash over their treatment of the case. I have to say that I found Carl to be the most underwritten character of the central trio and his job seemed to be to verbally attack Sean on a regular basis. It’s a shame as Noel Clarke is a decent actor but I feel that he’s been woefully served with a character who is more of a plot device than anything else.
Another problem that Chasing Shadows has is an imbalance in tone. The partnership between Sean and Ruth would seem to suggest some sort of odd couple comedy pairing. But writer Rob Williams appears to want to present a much darker drama which at the same time includes ludicrous moments that Luther would be jealous of. The scene in which follow Taylor into an abandoned shopping centre certainly has echoes of a dark crime thriller as does Ruth’s mirroring of Taylor’s actions at the end of the episode. What I personally found ludicrous was Williams’ use of a suicide forum as a narrative device. Whilst I’m sure these sort of things exist it did seem a bit tasteless to exploit such an idea in order to move the plot along. In fact I didn’t buy into the central crime story as a whole and found many elements of it to be extremely clichéd. From Taylor’s mother’s creepy new partner to the drug dealers plying their wares outside the college gates; all of the potential suspects were incredibly thinly drawn. Furthermore, Williams gave us little reason to care about Taylor’s wellbeing as he failed to divulge very much about her character in general.
Even though I’m a fan of his comedy work, I don’t think Reece Shearsmith has quite found his way yet as a dramatic performer. I was one of only a handful of people who didn’t buy into his performance in The Widower and here I felt his turn was equally subpar. To be fair Shearsmith isn’t given a lot to work with, but I believe that a stronger actor could have at least made Sean slightly likeable. Instead what we get is a grouchy, antisocial protagonist who isn’t at all likeable. Alex Kingston fares slightly better as Ruth but her performance is so different from that of Shearsmith it appears that they are in two different programmes. Although I realise that Williams is attempting to create an odd couple pairing which has worked in crime shows in the past; this coupling is so far-fetched that its wholly unrealistic. Adding Clarke’s Carl into the mix means that we have a central crime-fighting trio made up of three disparate characters who never quite gel together.
As you can probably tell I didn’t care much for Chasing Shadows, to the extent that I failed to find even one redeeming feature to it. I think that Williams believes Sean Stone is another socially awkward detective in the same vein as Adrian Monk or The Bridge’s Saga Noren. But in fact what he’s created is a crime drama with an unlikeable and unrealistic protagonist who I feel the audience has very little reason to care about. The rest of Chasing Shadows is equally ludicrous and combines to create what I believe is the worst TV drama of the year so far.
What did you think to Chasing Shadows? Is there anybody out there who enjoyed it?
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