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The week in TV: Kiri; Next of Kin; Spiral

Sarah Lancashire as gutsy social worker Miriam in the ‘utterly enthralling’ Kiri
Sarah Lancashire as gutsy social worker Miriam in the ‘utterly enthralling’ Kiri. Photograph: Channel 4

Kiri (C4) | All 4
Next of Kin (ITV) | ITV Player
Spiral (BBC Four) | iPlayer

We learned from 2016’s National Treasure a couple of things about writer Jack Thorne: that he doesn’t do cheap sententious moralising – that particular take on Operation Yewtree could have been woefully tawdry in lesser hands – and that he likes to keep us guessing to the end. The signs are all there that his new TV thriller, Kiri, will be even more nuanced and similarly gnarly right down to the wire.

And, I think, even better. Where NT had the arguable “mereness” of the icky fat old man/babysitter factor, this first episode ended with the gut-punch that was the discovery of young Kiri’s body in a woodland ditch near Bristol. There are big themes here, of trans-race adoption, of race itself and class itself, of much pulling up of drawbridges inside a social work department: where NT was all about shame, Kiri is all about blame.

It began, however, impossibly breezily, Bristol’s very flyovers made to look somehow leafy and dappled, and gutsy social worker Miriam, within about eight minutes, and with minimal props – a hip flask, a gouty, flatulent rescue dog – establishing this is a caring lass who knows how to cut meaningless corners, knows not to take pointless offence when none is meant, despairs of tinpot bureaucrats, will soldier on uphill past many strangers with a clap on the shoulder and a weary backward wave: crucially, this was a part that only really deserved to be owned by Sarah Lancashire.

Happy Valley’s Sgt Catherine Cawood has migrated with ludicrous ease to the Bristolian accent, and for a while the sun still shines: even when Kiri, for whom Miriam’s organised a last-minute house visit to her black birth grandparents before nodding through her official adoption, from the care of a jailbird father to (apparently) nice, white, middle classers – even when Kiri suddenly disappears Miriam’s reaction is concern, yes, but mainly exasperation.

Which is why it is such a shock, for us but mainly for her, when the body is found. The tabloid shitstorm begins, literally laps right up to her front door. (I’ll have to be careful what I say about tabloids from now on. From next week, we is one.) Had the department’s tick-box protocols prioritised Kiri’s “cultural” needs over her safety? Had Miriam cut one breezy corner too many? Expect echoes of the Sun’s hounding of former children’s services boss Sharon Shoesmith (backed, you’ll remember, by that sturdy gossamer of a man David Cameron), and much arse-covering, and perhaps some class issues as the foster family parade their undoubted pain.

Expect, too, the retelling of that afternoon from various angles: we’ve yet even to see it from the point of view of Kiri’s grandad, Tobi, the phenomenal Lucian Msamati. And expect rightful dissection of Miriam’s possible errors: was she right to airily prioritise the care of farty dog Jessie above the inspection of Tobi’s flat; is the cheeky wee hipflask there as a fillip or a crutch? Utterly enthralling, and I’ll be waiting with chewed fingers to see how this pans out over four too-short episodes.

Archie Panjabi in Next of Kin.
‘The always standout’ Archie Panjabi in Next of Kin. Photograph: ITV

Remarkably, last week saw not one but two sensitive portrayals of cross-cultural new Britain, without stereotyping nor a galumphing message-heavy rabbit punch to the back of the neck. Perhaps we are, after all, finally growing up a little. Next of Kin – a six-part thriller co-written by the delightful Natasha Narayan, once of this parish – is brutal, yes, as anything veering from Lahore to London, featuring beheadings and bombs and radicalisation was always going to be – but tender, too, in its vibrance of London life as lived by the Shirani clan. Correction: as once lived. Now they are down two, a beloved brother, taken by an Isis franchise on his way home from good medical works, and a son, possibly radicalised, fled from London to Spain or rather, of course, Lahore.

The suspicions descend like a pall, on all the family, all the friends, and you yearn for the first minutes when the Shiranis were just getting on with their lives – joking, and wearing miniskirts, and tutting, and arguing over tidiness and food and phones – in Britain. My own suspicions too: I was wrong, as it turned out, but I inwardly winced at the simple sight of a tourist bus slowly ambling down a London kerb, convinced there was about to come a crack, and screams, and a bloom of blue smoke, and the sirens. The terrorists shall not cow us, they say, but increasingly politicians’ easy slogans just begin to look exactly that: if I am conditioned to react this way, never mind the appalling effect on the likes of the Shiranis, even or, especially, the good doctor Mona (the always standout Archie Panjabi), whose very neighbours now shun them… hasn’t someone won, or at least something large been lost? Hugely intelligent television, and I hope it will not stoop early to cliche.

‘My favourite TV viewing of the year’: Audrey Fleurot and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing in Spiral
‘My favourite TV viewing of the year’: Audrey Fleurot and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing in Spiral. Photograph: Caroline Dubois/BBC/© Son et Lumière/Canal+/Caroline Dubois

It is not too late (it turns out) to come to Spiral, which is now, if a little suddenly, my favourite TV viewing of the year, if not all time. Many have tried to put their fingers on why they should find it so absorbing, this subtitled buddy-buddy-buddy flic flick set, by and large, on the scuzzy side of the peripherique, a Paris far from champagne and waiters and tourist tat, a Paris perfumed in the main by burning tyres, cheap, stinking smuggled cigarettes and ribald bleak humour.

The French title is Engrenages, which more literally translates as something approaching “wheels within cogs”, which is slightly more apposite: in each series, the stories whirl, collide, mesh or spatter, and you’re left with an admiring, head-shaking, revolted sense of “wha’ppen?” There is nothing but seamlessly good acting here, whether it’s the main triangle of cops – Laure, Gilou, Tintin – or legal stalwarts examining magistrate FranÇois Roban (Philippe Duclos) and flame-haired lawyer Joséphine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot).

Filmed last year during Paris’s many troubles, it can’t have been an easy series to get into the can (not least last night’s street riot) and the very unease of the police, if not the actual open terrorism, is perfectly evinced, with a plot that reeks of paranoia. Not that the main trio might notice: Gilou and Tintin continue to buffer and batter their way through each other and through the plot, big old buffoon teddy bears with guns: above all, Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud holds them all together. Determinedly unsmiling, spartanly as unsexy as ever a Frenchwoman can be, yet when she does smile tout le monde smiles with her. If you only watch one series of Spiral, watch this one.

This article titled "The week in TV: Kiri; Next of Kin; Spiral" was written by Euan Ferguson, for The Observer on Sunday 14 January 2018 07.00am

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