After watching ITV’s Liar, written by brothers Harry and Jack Williams, I was eager to get my teeth into their BBC series Rellik, which (unfortunately for the writers) airs in the same Monday 9pm timeslot.
Rellik may sound like another Scaninavian Noir thriller, but in fact it just spells KILLER backwards. The central conceit of the six-part series from the writers of The Missing being a story told in reverse à la Christopher Nolan’s Memento, but whereas the 2001 film’s reverse chronology cranked up the tension, everything about Rellik is arse about face.
Richard Dormer plays DCI Gabriel Markham, who we first see running on a treadmill at 3am, his face terribly scarred by burns or an acid attack. A light bulb goes off in the insomniacal, Captain Ahab-like detective’s mind and he visits a smoky gothic graveyard right outta Buffy the Vampire Slayer, rummages through the topsoil to find a pill bottle containing an SD card. Don’t worry, I thought – it will make sense in a minute. It didn’t.
In an annoying-the-first-time-you-see-it visual leitmotif that runs through the episode, the last few scenes are played in reverse, rain goes up, glass unsmashes and we see Gabriel meeting a man – the prime suspect of the murder hunt he is heading up – in a park.
In the park, the chief suspect, Steven Mills says he can explain everything and reaches for something in his pocket. He is shot twice by police marksmen and sent hurtling into a pond. Then, minutes later Steven Mills flies out of the pond as the nausea-inducing leitmotif returns.
Don’t worry, I thought again – it will make sense in a minute but ten minutes in and I’d had enough…
Not only did the reverse-storytelling remove all sense of intrigue, in the exact opposite of Liar, I just didn’t want to watch these unlikeable characters milling around this “story”.
As I said about Strike and Wallander, playing a depressed/alcoholic detective is difficult – they must be dour and hate life, but they still must be likeable. Gabriel Markham is not. Nor is anyone else around him.
It just goes to show the importance of a good casting director.
The characters and relationships may work on paper (though I never understand why good-looking young women like DI Shepard (Jodi Balfour) date men in their mid-fifties on TV) but, when everyone is taking themselves so seriously and trying to be dark and edgy and become the next Luther, (Sam Miller directed both) the backwards gimmick paints the show into narrative cul de sacs which will mean each week will need to end with a masssive reveal – or unreveal to keep viewers hooked. Unhooked?
This week’s unreveal was that Steven Mills wasn’t the killer (meaning we didn’t really start at the end, after all that… you know NAMING YOUR SHOW BACKWARDS THANG) and that a mysterious hooded figure made Steven kill on videotape and leave his fingerprints at the scene.
As viewers, at this final reveal, we’re supposed to care enough to cast our memories back to earlier events to work out who the hooded man making Steven kill is, but the moment has been lost:
Paterson Joseph’s pychatrist was kinda suspicious, could it have been him. Was it the posh man in the glasses? Did Christine really sign herself out of hospital to kill (again)? Whereas the Williams brothers brilliantly litter Liar with suspects and red herrings, here every heavy-handed line means we’re all too confused to actually give a fuck.
It all smacked of the same device Eastenders used in about 1988 when revealing who the father of sixteen-year-old Michelle Fowler’s baby was. Turns out it was Dirty Den, but Kelvin, Ian Beale, Ali from Ali’s Café and Uncle Tom Cobley n’all all “had to be somewhere at 2 o’clock”, got into their Y-reg Escorts and Cortinas and drove away…
While that was exciting when you were twelve, now it’s more a case of … what’s “I don’t care” backwards?
I’m all for mainstream TV being experimental, but even with this unusual narrative technique, Rellik feels old hat and it’s this that ultimately its what killed Rellik. I’m still heavily invested in Liar and can’t wait for tomorrow’s fourth episode, but I won’t be revisiting Rellik.
ITV one. BBC nil.
Rellik continues at 9pm, Mondays on BBC1, but you’re much better off switching to ITV. The grass is greener on the other side.