The lurid TV murder drama has become a parody of itself, with increasingly elaborate and disgusting cases and ever more unstable detectives. It's hard to take seriously. Can widowed, hard-drinking, emotionally volatile maverick DCI Jack Cloth and the chalk to Cloth's cheese, emotionally closed ice queen DC Anne Oldman, rescue the genre?
Not on your life: they're here to bury it, because while Sky1's A Touch of Cloth has every trope in place, it's all there on purpose. This is a deadpan, joyously silly Naked Gun-style parody conceived by Charlie Brooker, in which John Hannah and Suranne Jones mercilessly send themselves up.
"I like dark crime dramas," Brooker tells Radio Times about the genesis of the idea. "Se7en is one of my favourite films. But it seemed every weekend had a dark TV detective drama involving someone like Robson Green that smacked of an excuse to put as much horrible stuff on the screen as possible. Everything has to be bleak and sombre and everyone's life is destroyed."
Once Brooker had the idea to spoof doomy detective sagas, he noticed that, while they were all trying to stand out from the crowd by having the craziest cops and the most unhinged killers, in fact they were all the same. Everything from the crime scene to the confession followed a formula.
A Touch of Cloth stretches the familiar just a little, throws in some slapstick, sight gags and silly wordplay, and turns cop-show cliché into a comedy franchise that could run for longer than Taggart. The first feature-length story will be shown, Silent Witness-style, in two parts this Bank Holiday weekend, with a second already in the can and a third commissioned.
To get to the essence of absurd serial-killer dramas, Brooker and his co-writer Daniel Maier sat down and brutally dismembered them. "Rather than watching things from beginning to end, we had a compilation of crime scene discoveries, of interrogations, of morgue scenes. Shorn of the context of the surrounding programme, they become very funny. You notice things you don't notice when you're caught up in the story."
What about those classy subtitled dramas a lot of us are very pleased with ourselves for watching? They're a cut above… aren't they? "I enjoyed 75% of The Killing – it went on a bit – but I didn't think it was much different to a BBC1 or ITV1 crime drama. You could put it on a terrestrial network on a Sunday.
"One that really made me laugh was Sebastian Bergman. If you'd said at the start, here's a spoof Scandinavian crime drama, you'd have had a hit on your hands."
While Brooker admits that, because he can now "see the workings", he can laugh at the grimmest murder stories – he cites Cracker, Silence of the Lambs and even Appropriate Adult – this comedy generally keeps it light and silly. "There are a lot of stupid jokes which you could show at 6pm. You'd just have to cut out the morgue scenes and the gore."
Serious crime dramas might all be piles of ludicrous clichés when you look at them closely, but Brooker doesn't blame them. "There are weird things that happen in any programme that don't happen in real life. They all have to do certain things. They're genre pieces: you accept when you watch that they're going to have that format.
"This isn't a spoof borne out of hate. We're just pointing out that it's all about as realistic as a scene where a person flies to Venus."
CHARLIE'S TOP COP CLICHES