British detective show Thorne has points that work quite well for it, and points that tend to drag it down. On the plus side, and as I've said many times before, the British have a particular gift for television detective drama, and that gift finds a particularly well executed expression here. On the minus side, the jaded, damaged detective who "doesn't play by the rules" has sort of been done to death, and when coupled with a dearth of likeable characters, as in Thorne, it can make viewing a bit of a slog.
David Morrissey plays the eponymous detective Tom Thorne, and he's a brooding, driven man, who doesn't mind a bit of strong arming, skirting the rules and violation of procedure if that's what it takes to snag the bad guy. And in the two stories included on this release, separated into six episodes, they are most definitely very bad fellows. In Sleepyhead the perpetrator likes to put his victims into a coma like state where they are totally awake and aware, but can't move or talk, but he sometimes fails in his process and ends up killing instead of paralyzing. In Scaredycat it's a pair of killers that target two unrelated but similar victims on the same day, one killed clinically, the other brutally.
Thorne is accompanied and aided by many others: fellow detective Kevin Tughan (the very talented Eddie Marsan), junior detective Dave Holland (O. T. Fagbenle), pathologist Phil Hendricks (Aidan Gillen), and detective Sarah Chen (Sandra Oh). Together they doggedly track down the killers, through twists and turns and betrayals and dead ends and blind alleys. The show can get quite dark at times, and there are fairly often graphic shots of the results of violence (a smashed in face, realistic corpse, etc.), though the violent actions themselves tend to be screened or barely visible, and the gore itself is only shown in flashes. Much of the darkness, however, isn't from graphically portrayed violence, it's from the stark, pessimistic take on human nature. These folks (cops and criminals alike) are cynical, wounded, frustrated and depressed. Even the nominally sympathetic people are just waiting for a chance to prove they are in fact bastards.
This doesn't stop Thorne from having moments of sweetness and human warmth, they're merely the exception and not the rule. And, honestly, crime dramas tend to focus on the darker side of humanity by their very nature, so perhaps it's too much to expect a brighter view of the human condition from one. The dower mood just seems a tad unrelenting. But, moving on to what Thorne does exceptionally well, it executes tightly crafted stories efficiently and effectively, and with this genre workmanlike ticking of the boxes is very important. The conundrums at the center of the stories are well contrived and intricate without being confusing, though the surprise twist at the end of Scaredycat was telegraphed quite a bit, and fairly obvious by the middle of the second episode. That doesn't stop the tale from being engaging, merely a shade disappointing.
The other area of excellence is the acting, with Eddie Marsan as the clear standout. He's not the lead, and doesn't get near the screen time that Morrissey does, but he absolutely shines. Tughan is a much more by the book detective than Thorne, and because he's orthodox in his methods he doesn't get the headline grabbing results that his more intuitive compatriot does, and is a fair bit resentful as a result. Marsan digs deep into the character, who can be gentle and comforting to an orphaned young boy, but also a spittle spewing near maniac while trying to pressure a suspect into implicating Thorne in a past misdeed. This isn't to say that Morrissey or Oh or Gillen or any one of the other performers are substandard, or untalented, because they aren't. The acting turns in Thorne are uniformly very good, with nary a missed cue or flubbed line or off characterization to be seen. But Marsan is perfect.
Thorne is slickly produced, more than competently written, artfully directed, and very well performed. But it still comes off as somewhat empty, emotionally. And perhaps that's what the filmmakers were going for, but it makes for dreary viewing from time to time. While it's a mixed bag, it is Recommended.