Case Sensitive, “Episode 1” (1.01)

DS Charlie Zailer (Olivia Williams) stands in the victim's house, looking regretful.
A review of the new ITV drama, written by Sophie Hannah and Kate Brook, and directed by Charles Martin, after the jump…

“Woke up one morning, realised I was very very bored. Signed up for the force the next day.” – Detective Sergeant Charlie Zailer

One thing that the British do quite often is the television miniseries. Unlike TV in North America, where we run shows until there’s no more life to them, they are quite comfortable in telling a television story in two, three, four episodes and then only bringing it back again if there’s a compelling reason to. Case Sensitive is a two-part murder mystery starring Olivia Williams and Darren Boyd. This first part aired May 2, and the conclusion aired the next day on May 3. I’ll be reviewing them separately.

I don’t watch many limited-run British series. That’s started changing now that they are more available to me, such as with Marchlands earlier this year. So far I’ve had compelling reasons other than the format in and of itself: Marchlands was based on a potential American series I was fascinated with a few years ago, and starred Alex Kingston, for whom I’ve developed quite an appreciation. Case Sensitive isn’t quite my style typically, but it stars the fantastic Olivia Williams, who was often the best part of Dollhouse. Her turn as Adelle DeWitt, the confident, darkly humorous head of the Dollhouse was a starmaking turn that, sadly, nobody but hardcore Whedonites tuned in for.

Here, she’s just as good. Charlie Zailer and Adelle DeWitt are vastly different characters in terms of their personalities and how they deal with conflict, but they have one thing in common: even when everything is falling apart, they will do their best to seem in control and on top of everything. DeWitt was merely much better at it. Zailer is the new kid on the block here, in charge of her first case in a new job and struggling to win over her colleagues after an embarrassing first night, where she dranbk too much and may or may not have slept with her new partner, DC Waterhouse (Darren Boyd). Her main problem is that Waterhouse is overeager to follow up on his own theories, stepping over her to prove them rather than recognise her authority. At first, this seems like him purposely undermining her authority, but it soon becomes clear that rather than malicious, he’s merely thoughtless and impulsive.

Dealing with Waterhouse is only part of Zailer’s problem, as she has to also deal with the disdain of her new colleagues and a boss who disrespects her. She’s smart, and driven, but she’s not perfect: she ignores some of the signs that it was anything other than a suicide, claiming that there could have been plenty of things going wrong that Geraldine would have kept to herself. Though she’s probably right in general, she begins to worry that she’s doing  bad job with the case, as Waterhouse pushes forward with alternate theories that begin to bear fruit.

The story, of a mother and her young daughter who die in what looks like a murder-suicide, is pretty interesting, but there’s something that bugs me about it. The episode spends so much time elaborating on the idea of family annihilation that if it’s anything else, much of the episode’s exploration and thematic elements feel like a red herring. However, the end of the episode and the intrigues regarding Sally and the fake Mark Bretherick imply that there’s more to this story. I’m interested in watching the second part, but frankly I’m most interested in our leads,  rather than in the murder mystery. We’ve seen plenty of those, with a thousand procedurals tossing out 22 each a year, and this one isn’t so different than those. Everything I’ve read implies that Case Sensitive is a one-time story, but I’d like to see more  if only to see more of Olivia Williams in the lead role. Zailer is intriguing, and I’d like to dive in a little bit more; I hope we get a chance to.

Next part, we get the conclusion of the mystery. Those who watched part one have likely already seen the ending, but I expect I’ll be catching up with it sometime this weekend. Interested to see how this wraps up.


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