Nicola Walker might have said goodbye to DCI Cassie Stuart on Unforgotten, but it seems her crime-solving days are far from over – and she stars as enigmatic detective Annika Strandhed in new procedural drama Annika, which arrives on Alibi this week.
It’s not cold cases she’s investigating this time, though, but rather murders by the sea – as the new head of a specialist Marine Homicide Unit somewhere in Scotland. And from the outset, it quickly becomes clear that this series is also markedly different in tone from the altogether more sober Unforgotten, with a far more playful approach taken by writer Nick Walker, best exemplified by the frequent fourth-wall breaking from the central character.
In the very first scene, Annika directly introduces herself to the audience via a reference to Moby Dick – a source she’ll return to at various points throughout the episode. “Captain Ahab spends a year hunting Moby Dick, and it’s a pretty challenging year by anyone’s standards,” she says, before launching into a full synopsis of the novel. “It’s a terrible voyage,” she concludes. “Everyone goes mad and no one even knows if the whale dies or not. One thing I do know? This great white whale definitely did.”
The great white whale she is referring to here is the episode’s first murder victim: a man who has been killed by the somewhat brutal method of a harpoon to the head. It soon emerges that this unlucky customer is Arthur Hendry, the owner of a wildlife tour boat business and a father of two, who was recently reported missing by his wife. The rest of the episode sees Annika and her team – which includes characters played by Guilt’s Jamie Sives and The Nest’s Katie Leung – attempt to solve the case, with all manner of twists and turns in store along the way, and a couple more innocent victims dispatched in the process.
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Meanwhile, we’re also introduced to Annika’s personal life – which seems to mainly consist of regular spats with her bad-tempered teenaged daughter Morgan, who is disgruntled about her new school, and who is taking part in what seems to be the most hastily rehearsed school play of all time. This particular plot strand feels fairly generic and underdeveloped thus far – although it seems likely we’ll further explore the dynamic between Annika and Morgan in the remaining three episodes.
The central case is gripping enough and ensures the 50-minute runtime passes at a fairly zippy pace, while the performances are solid, if rather unremarkable, from a reliable cast of actors who aren’t always helped by some occasionally unconvincing dialogue. Walker’s central character is of a similarly mildly eccentric bent to Rakie Ayola’s DS Holland in Pete McTighe’s recent BBC Two drama The Pact, constantly diffusing the seriousness of the investigation with a series of quips and quirks – and this ensures the drama comes across as fairly light-hearted and even a little offbeat despite the relative barbarity of the crimes.
Not everything in the first episode works by any means – I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the aforementioned Fleabag-style monologues to camera, for example, which is presumably a hangover from the programme’s roots as a popular Radio 4 drama. But at least this feature offers the series something which makes it stand out a little from the rather crowded field of run-of-the-mill detective dramas, and perhaps as we get to know Annika more these direct insights into her psyche will be more welcome.
The Scottish coastline – the series was shot in the West Coast seaside village of Largs – makes for a stunning backdrop for Annika’s investigations, and it will be interesting to see what future sea-based murders fall under her scrutiny in subsequent instalments. For now, though, this is a solid start.