Why BBC1’s gloomy crime drama Rellik just doesn’t work

The series always trying – and failing – to overcome its own gimmick

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When the BBC first announced Rellik, it sounded like an interesting premise. A six-episode crime thriller but told in reverse – the opening moments gave us the supposed killer before the drama began unspooling backwards to reveal the investigation into a string of gruesome murders. Everything was the wrong way round, including the title – R-E-L-L-I-K. Geddit?

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But an intriguing format doesn’t always translate into good telly and Rellik is being killed (sorry) in the ratings by ITV’s Liar. Both dramas are written by the same team – The Missing creators Harry and Jack Williams – but the BBC series has a fundamental flaw at its heart: the reverse timeframe chips away at any sense of intrigue.

Of the three episodes aired so far, the start is always where the drama is at its most interesting. We begin each visit to this gloomy town devoid of sunlight – where acid-drenched bodies regularly wash up – with a few mysteries hanging in the air. Tonight, it was creepy Patrick Barker (Paul Rhys) and his young girlfriend burning a heap of belongings, coupled with a gory pig carcass strung from a ceiling and Gabriel Markham’s (Richard Dormer) deliverance of his inebriated daughter.

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What had caused her to go off the rails? Why had we gone from acid murders to dripping animal corpses? Was this pile of evidence what caused the mysterious Patrick to board that plane in such a hurry at the start of the series?

As the episode played out, we learned answers to all of the above. Patrick was sleeping with his adopted daughter, an affair rumbled by his wife Rebecca who then fell victim to a fatal head blow at the hands of her child; the pig was an office prank (although not of the variety ever seen in the Radio Times office); and Gabriel’s daughter had rebelled against her warring parents.

But we already knew the end game – we watched Gabriel desperately hunting for Hannah, safe in the knowledge that he would find her, which removed any tension from his and Elaine’s frantic search.

Meanwhile, the gruesome pig – which at first had wielded a shock factor – lost any meaning when it turned out to be part of a sparring match between colleagues.

And nothing in tonight’s episode felt more underwhelming than Patrick Barker. A character who had once promised one of the few mysteries of the series appears to have run entirely out of steam. Not a serial killer – not even a murderer – Barker was merely trying to cover up the matricide committed by his young lover.

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The reverse timeline means all of Rellik’s storylines are at their most fascinating when first presented to the viewer. As a film this tale might work, but as a TV series it doesn’t – by the end of each episode, the puzzles of the start are solved and Rellik is desperately working to retain its viewers the following week by dropping in a last-minute mystery.

At the end of episode three, that function was filled by a suspicious figure watching Gabriel’s house. It remains one of just a handful of unanswered questions, along with the Big Bad Thing that Gabriel’s wife Lisa is supposed to have done and that mysterious safe house arrangement the scarred detective is using to bribe his boss. As for Steven Mills – the (innocent?) man police pinned the murders on at the start of the series/end of the investigation – with no mention of him in the last two episodes, viewers no longer have much cause to care for his fate.

Rellik is constantly fighting against its own format, trying to keep viewers on their toes while leaking its secrets by showing the events that lead up to each twist and turn. It has the makings of a good story – but the device just doesn’t work as each week its forced to show its hand.

And one spooky figure in a hood spying on our lead character in his kitchen is not enough to compel me to tune in next week. Rather than building a sense of mystery, this series continues to slowly deflate.

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Rellik continues next Monday at 9pm on BBC1