‘A Touch of Cloth’ review

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One problem with modern television is the dearth of detective dramas. There just aren’t enough of them, and the few that get commissioned are never about serial killers butchering their victims in an increasingly grisly spree of slayings. Nor do they ever feature a maverick loner as the main character; a drunk with a failed marriage and a questionable attitude to authority; someone happy to break all the rules and then set fire to the rulebook, just as long as the job is done. Now, at last, just such a gritty thriller has arrived.

John Hannah (the original incarnation of Rebus) stars as DI Jack Cloth, a hardboiled, old-school, nonconformist ‘tec haunted by the murder of his wife, with Suranne Jones (Scott & Bailey) as his by-the-book new sidekick, DC Anne Oldman.

The murder of a WWII veteran on a council estate starts an investigation which pushes Cloth to his professional and personal limits, superior officer ACC Tom Boss (Julian Rhind-Tutt) growing more and more dubious of the errant cop’s wayward methods as the killer remains on the loose and the bodies start to pile up.

Sound familiar? Well, of course it does. There are a million police dramas on the telly and at least half feature an unconventional plod getting massively pissed and pissed off as they try and crack the case before losing their job/liver/self-respect. Some are ace. Many are rubbish. None escape a satirical kick up the arse from A Touch of Cloth, which is – in case you’re one of the people fooled by the trailers who took to Twitter to protest about a thriller with a ludicrous name – a hilarious, I-think-I-ruptured-something-vital-laughing spoof written by Charlie Brooker and TV Burp’s Daniel Maier.

From the opening scene at the Rundowne Estate to the teaser at the end for a fictional follow-up episode, no cop show cliché goes unpunished, no overused TV trope evades mockery. The next hour-and-a-half is an endless stream of great and (deliberately) bad jokes, puns, sight gags and pratfalls, all played in the best, strictly deadpan traditions of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker.

The influence of the American comedy trio is unashamedly palpable throughout (the sequence of cut-out newspaper headlines on Cloth’s wall that concludes with ‘COP OBSSESSED WITH NEWS CLIPPINGS’ is classic Airplane/Naked Gun) but this is no mere UK rehash of Police Squad.

Yes, casting an ostensibly serious actor with history as a TV policeman (ironically, Hannah now looks more like a John Rebus than he ever did when playing the character a decade ago) is entirely in keeping with the way ZAZ converted Leslie Nielsen from a straight actor to a comic genius, but there’s a harder, more surreal edge to A Touch of Cloth that at times places it closer to Black Mirror than Hot Shots! Part Deux.

You’re never more than a few seconds away from glorious silliness, though, and to whittle the list of visual gags, wanking jokes, parodies and comedic misunderstandings down to even a Top 100 would take too long.  Some are signalled with flags and a foghorn, others are more subtle, but they’re so densely-layered that every scene is a constant onrush of hilarity. Perhaps it’s enough to mention some of Cloth’s Ron Burgundy-ish exclamations at crime scenes (‘Christ in Londis!’ ‘Great Susan of Nazareth!’ ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash!’) and his despairing cry of: ‘An entire building full of innocent people dead because of me … for the fifth time this year.’

However, while it’s hard to criticise anything containing weapons-grade lines like ‘He’s half as popular as piss-flavoured birthday cake with Mussolini icing’ or ‘What kind of sick mind creates a shrine to Todd Carty?’, perhaps this might have been even better if it was trimmed down to an hour. Then again, choosing what to take out would be harder than picking the best jokes. A Touch of Cloth is actual comedy gold.

Airs at 9pm on Sunday 26th and Monday 27th August 2012 on Sky1.
Released on DVD on Monday 4th October 2012 by 4DVD.

> Buy the DVD on Amazon.

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