MURDER whodunnits – be it Midsomer Murders, Lewis or Death in Paradise – all stand or fall by their location.
Find the right location and everything else pretty much falls into place. You need a lead detective who has his or her quirks, a right-hand man or woman who generally enjoys working with the boss but sometimes feels they live in the shadows a little too much and a boss who is always on hand to make life more complicated.
Ideally, our lead will have a complicated private life, a tendency to go off on a tangent and ruffle a few feathers, but is always quite good at delivering a result at the end of the day. And this not being real life, it’s always the result that matters.
But no matter how good the script, or the casting, or the plots, when watching series two of Death in Paradise (BBC 1, 9pm, Tuesdays), I struggle to get beyond the fact the programme feels like one long jolly for the great and the good of the TV acting world.
The star is comedian Ben Miller, cast as the oh-so-English detective sent to the fictional Caribbean island of St Marie – which appears to have colonial connections with the British and the French, surely a coincidence given the programme is made jointly by the BBC and French broadcasters – to help solve murders.
Each week, various faces you’ll have seen on other TV programmes – for example, series two opened with the actor who played Dr Harry Cunningham in Silent Witness playing a big role, will pop up.
Heck, given the choice between solving crimes in grim parts of London and darting off to the Caribbean to just be witness to a crime, I know which one I’d choose too.
Stephanie Beecham has also found her way out there.
Being a comedy drama, nothing is too serious – unless you’re the victim, I suppose, in which case it’s a matter of life-and-death importance – as Miller and sidekick Sara Martins, playing DS Camille Bordey, roam around the island trying to solve the crime, and throwing as many British, French and Caribbean stereotypes into the mix as possible.
Maybe for one series, it worked.
But as I look outside my window and see snow falling, Death In Paradise feels less a contender for drama of the year so much as a closed-shop opportunity for well-known actors to work in the sunshine.
But at least it isn’t Lewis (ITV 1, 9pm, Mondays), the Oxford-set drama which has limped along on the coat-tails of the original Inspector Morse series for far too long, and will fortunately be put out of its misery in the near future.
Kevin Whately’s character Lewis is living, breathing (for now – who knows how the series will end) proof that sidekicks shouldn’t get their own gig.
Robin without Batman? Penfold without Dangermouse? Lewis is Penfold personified. A weak personality prone to rare moments of bravery.
Even attempts to give Lewis a love life play out more like the dullest of personal ads than a screen version of a Mills and Boon.
By the end of Monday’s episode, I’d not only lost the will to stick with a plot which involved an Oxford college, an undertaker and curious references to Croatia, but almost the will to live.
Death almost became me. And that’s not what a crime drama should do.
This week: Borgen: (BBC 4, Sat, 9pm): If you want crime drama which is different – try this. And I don't just mean because it's set in Denmark....