Payback review: Morven Christie thriller is solid schedule filler
A sturdy offering from the crime drama production line.
There's been some talk from executive producer Jed Mercurio and others about what sets Payback apart from other entries in the overpopulated crime thriller genre. The general consensus seems to be... accountants!
Yes, the niche that Payback has settled into concerns economic crime and the unsavoury individuals behind it, with widow Lexie Noble (Morven Christie) discovering her late husband had fallen in with such dangerous crooks.
After his seemingly premeditated stabbing on a busy Edinburgh street, she has little choice but to clean up the mess – the alternative being a decade behind bars or her own grisly undoing at the hands of crime boss Cal Morris (Peter Mullan).
Christie gives the strongest performance by a considerable margin, effortlessly inhabiting a character under intense pressure as she bears the weight of unimaginable grief while battling off threats from every direction.
As an accountant herself – albeit, out of practice – Lexie is able to apply her own expertise to the perilous situation, with Christie and screenwriter Debbie O'Malley managing to show both her terror and tenacity.
Mullan's Cal takes a bit longer to make a positive impression. In his first scene, sitting smugly as he attempts to buy a private island, he seems almost like some comically evil rejected Bond villain.
Fortunately, the character becomes more interesting as he develops, and we learn a little more about his motives, with Mullan getting opportunities to pile on the menace.
The various police officers on Cal's trail continue to fall flat, however, feeling ripped from virtually any other cop show you can name – several of which would probably be from the very same production company.
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Andi Osho is highly unlikeable as DI Jean Royce, who relentlessly hounds Lexie for reasons that defy logic, with O'Malley's script failing to offer any justification for her deeply insensitive actions.
The police in general are depicted in a rather unsympathetic light, with each officer on the case basically queuing up to strong-arm the widow into some other dire scenario.
Perhaps that's the point, but if O'Malley is trying to make a statement, it really isn't clear what that is. If anything, excessive privacy-violating state surveillance is depicted as little more than a useful tool for stopping baddies.
It will be interesting to see if more substantial commentary presents itself in the second half (only three episodes were provided for review purposes), with DC Jibran Khan (Prasanna Puwanarajah) seemingly being set up for something important.
But for now, attempts to spin Payback as a reinvention of the wheel just don't ring true. The show is perfectly competent, with good performances, solid scripting and direction, but it's nothing we haven't seen before.
At present, it doesn't feel like a story that needed to be told, but rather a story that could be told within a certain timeframe and budget to plug a gap in the autumn line-up.
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