"Cold Justice" -- From "Law and Order" czar Dick Wolf comes a true-crime detective procedural. Playing a bit like reality's version of "Rizzoli & Isles," "Cold Justice" follows attorney and former Texas prosecutor Kelly Siegler and former crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary as they travel through small-town America attempting to solve cold cases.
The true-crime element may be the show's immediate draw, but the show quickly becomes a stark reminder of just how dramatically groomed and often romanticized even the grittiest scripted crime dramas can be. The stories "Cold Justice" tells are not clever tales of elaborately covered-up crimes with byzantine motives involving a carefully constructed array of canny and colorful characters. These deaths are tragically and brutally mundane, both victim and suspect often poor and marginalized. Neither are the re-investigations modern miracles of DNA testing or dramatically provoked confession. Instead, Siegler, McCrary and their team must diligently review imperfectly preserved files, interview long lists of witnesses and build their cases on common sense and circumstantial evidence.
And it's precisely the lack of traditional stage-managed drama that makes early episodes of the show so fascinating.
These investigations are relentlessly straightforward and matter-of-fact, with none of the genre's tendency to overplay or manipulate a moment. Siegler and McClary are attractive, experienced and articulate. They could quite easily have been turned into overly dramatized versions of themselves. Mercifully, they are allowed to be who they are, professionals who know exactly what they're doing. Although they are friendly, with each other and the local law enforcement, there is no banter and their personal lives appear to play no role in the proceedings. Instead, the show seems content to walk viewers through the real work of murder investigations, reminding us that real crime fighters do exist and this is what they, and their jobs, look like. TNT, Tuesdays, 10 p.m.
"Luther" -- If there is any man alive who wears a jacket better than Idris Elba as Detective Inspector John Luther, I have never seen him. Not that Elba's looks should be the main reason to tune into Season 3 of this multilayered character study posing as a detective series from the BBC. The four-episode season airs in quick succession, which is exactly how I watched it, and I am forced to admit it is not the show's strongest season. As is so often the case with these "haunted policeman" series, Luther finds himself ever at odds with his colleagues and superiors despite the fact that he is the best they've got. Which gets a little tiresome. Still, I'd put a weak season of "Luther" up against strong seasons of many other shows, and the sight of Luther walking down the street with his fists in his pocket or getting out of a car and straightening his tie is a fine and satisfying way to spend an hour. BBC America, Sept. 3-6, 10 p.m.
"The Fall" -- The broody detective really does seem to have reached saturation (see above) but don't give it up until you've seen this marvelously creepy and psychologically provocative British series picked up by Netflix. I'm a bit late to the party -- my colleague Robert Lloyd had it on his list weeks ago -- but better late than never, I say, especially if it involves Gillian Anderson.
She plays the quietly controlled and enigmatic Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, brought to Belfast to investigate a series of murders being committed by grief counselor and family man Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan). The narrative is broken into two main pieces -- Stella's story and Paul's -- that often overlap both literally and figuratively in ways that are symbolic, poetic and sometimes a bit much. The involvement of young children in certain scenes is both upsetting and compelling. Where we might be jaded by our overexposure to these sorts of shows, the children remind us of their simple horror, and the power of the performances -- Archie Panjabi, worth watching in anything is on hand as a medical examiner -- makes "The Fall" transcend even its own genre. Netflix
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