Dark, gritty, uncompromising films like The Silence of the Lambs---and to a lesser extent, Manhunter---have really done a lot for television, haven't they? Spawning such classic shows as Chris Carter's The X-Files and even CSI, crime dramas exploded starting in the early 1990s, and they're still popping up all over the place. The public's fascination with brutal crimes (and the police procedures that solve them) has made household names out of shows that wouldn't have even been conceived decades ago. Even with an endless sting of copycats riding the coattails of our beloved classics, plenty of new shows manage to break some new ground in the genre. Of course, they're not always made in America.
Wire in the Blood is that kind of show. It's part X-Files, part Millennium and part CSI, but this British import's unique characters, atmosphere and offbeat approach are mixed together with satisfying results (there's even a little bit of Monk in there, for all you Tony Shalhoub fans). Centered around the adventures of Dr. Anthony "Tony" Hill (skillfully played by Robson Green), Wire in the Blood doesn't always break new ground but still manages to dig deep enough. Dr. Hill's quirky personality paints the portrait of a slightly obsessive psychologist who can see into the minds of criminals, though he's also been known to enjoy video games in his free time. The woman who initially recruits Dr. Hill is Investigator Carol Jordan (Hermione Norris), a sincere and professional detective who offers a fine counterpoint to Hill's offbeat methods. Their chemistry helps anchor the story quite well, though Wire in the Blood wisely emphasizes crime over character.
Though the series rarely strays from the traditional format of police procedural drama (murder, investigation, dead end, twist, resolution), the engaging plotlines and character interaction help keep things running smoothly. Fans of the previously-mentioned crime dramas may experience a sensation of deja vu here and there, but that doesn't stop Wire in the Blood from being a solid effort in a genre full of mediocrity. Based on a series of novels by Val McDermid, this series premiered in November 2002 and is apparently still going strong.
The first "season" is comprised of three feature-length movies, originally broadcast in two parts apiece and presented on DVD in the same format. Here's your lineup of the usual suspects:
Disc One: "The Mermaids Singing" (Original Airdate: 11/14 & 11/21/02)
The first of the episodes based on Val McDermid's work, "The Mermaids Singing" does a decent job setting the stage for Wire in the Blood. There's a great balance of character development and plot advancement, something that many pilots can't usually achieve. The main story revolves around the brutal murder of three young gay males (as well as a police officer), leaving the authorities wondering if these were random acts of violence or the work of a serial killer. Among those involved, Dr. Hill (recruited by Inspector Jordan) believes the latter, due to the extreme nature of the slayings and the peculiar methods involved. "Mermaids" takes its time to unravel every detail, building a steady level of suspense and mystery---but, trust me, you'll know within minutes if Wire in the Blood is something you're going to enjoy. The graphic nature of the stories is rarely hidden, but this adds to the series' sense of urgency and danger; this isn't a walk in the park, not by a long shot.
Disc Two: "Shadows Rising" (Original Airdate: 11/28 & 12/05/02)
Two seemingly unrelated events are uncovered in succession, as the bodies of two teenage girls are pulled from a lake while a celebrity couple fears they are being stalked by a killer. As Dr. Hill and Inspector Jordan investigate these matters separately, another murder is discovered while more pieces gradually begin to fall in place. Unfortunately, these investigations seem to be putting an incredible amount of stress on the professional relationship between Hill and Jordan. Are they better off keeping their work separate or pulling their resources together? This episode seems to falter a bit in the middle (even though the transition between both parts is handled well), but it's still a very strong follow-up to the pilot and stands on its own feet quite nicely.
Disc Three: "Justice Painted Blind" (Original Airdate: 12/12 & 12/19/02)
An 11-year old girl is kidnapped and a young woman is strangled, but these two crimes look like the work of recently acquitted pedophile Paul Gregory. In a strange turn of events, Dr. Hill believes otherwise---he's convinced that the methods point to a different killer---but he encounters a sign that more deaths might not be far away. Viewers looking for a neatly-tied ending might walk away a little disappointed, but the conclusion does a good job of setting up Season 2. It's also worth noting that "Justice" is the only episode not directly based on any of Val McDermid's novels, but her close involvement with this episode's creation ensures that the overall tone and atmosphere are consistent. In all likelihood, I'd even argue that "Justice" is the strongest of the three.
Originally available separately on DVD from Koch Vision, this three-disc set collects the trio of 90-minute episodes into one handy collection (so other than the packaging, they're basically identical). Unfortunately, there are a few problems that prevent this set---as well as the original releases---from being even a passable effort. The technical presentation is extremely frustrating and the bonus features are lackluster; overall, it's not even close to what TV on DVD is capable of. In any case, the content itself is strong enough to appeal to any fans of CSI, The X-Files or Millennium, making Wire in the Blood a decent rental choice if nothing else. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality:
Originally presented in 16:9 widescreen (the general standard for most European shows), Wire in the Blood has been butchered, hacked and chopped to fit a 1.33:1 aspect ratio (which is thankfully becoming less standard in America with each passing year). For the most part, the compositions don't look good: this show was shot in widescreen and was intended to be seen that way, and anyone with half a brain---or at least an eye for composition---should notice this right away. It doesn't completely ruin the viewing experience, but it comes very close. For those still reading, the actual picture quality isn't half-bad: the show's murky atmosphere is captured well and displays only a minor amount of edge enhancement and grain. Even so, the decision so pan-and-scan this release was a poor one, and immediately prevents it from receiving even a mild recommendation as a blind buy.
The sound is an improvement, though it still could've use a bit of fine-tuning. While the atmosphere of the show sounds terrific and some LFE even kicks in occasionally, there are several instances when dialogue sounds a bit muffled and thin (this problem is doubled because of the varying levels of British accents). I can't really fault the show for the latter reason, but it would've been great for Koch Vision to include English subtitles or Closed Captions to make things a little easier to understand.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging:
The main menus are extremely basic but get the job done. Each disc gives viewers the option of selecting the first or second half of each episode as the starting point; though no chapters are initially selectable, each half is broken into several pieces. No layer change was detected during playback, though the slim amount of content on each disc could easily fit on a single-layered DVD without any problems. The packaging looks nice, as this three-disc set is housed in an attractive fold-out digipak case that fits snugly inside the slipcover. No inserts have been included.
Not much of an effort was made, but there's a few mildly interesting text-based extras for fans of the show. Included here are a selection of Biographies for our two leads and author Val McDermid, as well as some Background Information on Robson Green's production company. Also here is an original Promo for the series as seen on British television, and the extras finish up with a Wellspring Weblink. I'd have liked to hear a few commentaries or even a behind-the-scenes interview with the cast and/or crew, but I'd have taken an OAR technical presentation over anything else.
Wire in the Blood is a fine show cursed only by a poor DVD treatment. The incorrect aspect ratio kills this one right out of the gate, and the exclusion of any real bonus features (combined with a fairly high MSRP) only adds fuel to the fire. Even so, the strength of this fledgling series is strong enough to overcome any foul play in the DVD presentation, making Wire in the Blood a decent rental for any fan of procedural dramas in the style of CSI and The X-Files. With more effort, this first "season" of Wire in the Blood could've been a terrifc bilnd buy for fans of interesting TV on DVD; as it stands, it's just another case of a great show that's been handled without care. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.