Review by C.J. Bunce
The star of the original Life on Mars is back as a detective solving crimes in the new BritBox original series from IPT, Grace. John Simm, also known for his run on Doctor Who, State of Play and other British dramas plays Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a cop sent down to desk duty a few years ago for embarrassing the bureau by bringing in a psychic to help solve a crime. When a former colleague rises up the ranks and pulls D.S. Grace in to a high-profile case, viewers get to meet the next great TV detective. The first episode of Grace is now streaming in the U.S. exclusively here on BritBox via Amazon.
Simm played one of the best cops in the history of television on Life on Mars, and as D.S. Grace it’s almost like we didn’t miss anything waiting. D.S. Grace is a bit older than Life on Mars’ Sam Tyler, but his understanding of police procedure and human nature is all the same. This isn’t a cop who makes mistakes, and unlike a similar hit police procedural series such as Luther, Grace doesn’t look to be about the personal quirks of the lead character and the first episode showed no signs of over-the-top violence or gore.
Based on the the first novel Dead Simple in the Peter James novels beginning in 2005, the stacked crimes are also believable if unique, the plotting smartly laid out. No stretch of the imagination is required in getting from one step of the crime to another–if you watch any true crime shows you know police frequently tie in psychics to try to help on missing persons cases, and humans continue to do stupid things. The crime of the first case? Wealthy businessmen play a prank on the groom at a bachelor party, leaving him trapped, but before they come back to free him they are all killed in a car wreck, no one else knowing what happened. Here the audience gets to enjoy watching D.S. Grace attempt to save the day, with the requisite obstacles and opposing forces inside and outside his police squad getting in his way.
The ongoing plot thread involved D.S. Grace’s past: his wife went missing on his 40th birthday some seven years ago. Will she turn up something like Ruth Wilson’s character in Luther (although no character could really be like that again, right?). So the series has the potential of a long future. This is Shetland without the scenery (although bits of Brighton aren’t half bad in the background), and D.S. Grace’s brooding is not the dreary stuff of Hinterland. But Shetland and Hinterland are definitely of the comparable vibe as Grace. And what mystery fan could ask for more?
The only downside? Each episode is actually a feature length movie (clocking in at 90 minutes), so only two episodes have been produced so far. The second episode, “Looking Good Dead,” arrives next week. John Simm has said in interviews he’s interested in adapting all of Peter James’ novels (at least 16 books).
The series co-stars Richie Campbell (The Frankenstein Chronicles, The Silence) as Grace’s former colleague, Rakie Ayola (Shetland, Dredd, Doctor Who, Sea of Souls, Black Mirror) as the textbook cantankerous boss, and Adrian Rawlins (Harry Potter series, Doctor Who, Law & Order: UK, Without Remorse) as the psychic.
We’re always on the lookout for the next great British/Irish/Scottish/UK police procedural or mystery. For 2021, this is the one to keep an eye on. It’s probably not the stuff of Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes, but it may be the next Hinterland or Shetland. In the high-quality story realm of Marchlands, Lightfields, Zen, Quirke, and the first season of Sherlock, and must-watch viewing for those who liked any of Collateral, Roadkill, A Confession, Dublin Murders, The Silence, The Five, The Missing, Thirteen, or Broadchurch.