If you didn’t catch the short-lived first series, broadcast in 2010, then BBC Two’s Vexed may well be an unknown quantity for you. And, given that the BBC hardly trumpeted its initial three episodes, you would be forgiven to think that the show had been axed (the collapse of its production company was to blame for the delay).
But here comes the return of Misfits creator Howard Overman’s detective show with a difference for a proper run of six episodes.
Actor Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) is back as the over-the-top, under-the-radar cop, D.I. Jack Armstrong, whilst his original partner, played by Lucy Punch, has been replaced by Spooks actress, Miranda Raison.
For many fans, this news was a troubling development. Most of the show’s charm came from the unusual chemistry between Punch and Toby; they made for a beautifully odd couple. Quirky and annoying in equal measure. The “Will they? Won’t they?” TV mantra would more likely to have referred to them killing one another, rather than sleeping.
But, with Punch off to Hollywood, her character too has been written out. Thankfully, Overman didn’t recast and went for a new addition to the show, D.I. Georgina Dixon. Also gratefully, this is not a like-for-like replacement; Punch’s foibles have been replaced by a much more confident, and playful, Raison.
Those concerned about the new face can stand down, as the striking actress makes for a delightful D.I. with a twinkle in her step and a gleeful wink in her eye. Stephens is his usual love-him-or-hate-him self as in the first series, though does show some vulnerability and even some heartwarming moments as he talks about his former colleague.
Without using lazy televisual clichés, the Vexed chemistry is more familiar here; as opposed to eccentric (though wonderfully so in the first series), we’re presented with a Moonlighting-esque battle of equals. It’ll be fun watching how this plays out in the remaining stories of the series.
This first episode is by no means extraordinary – it’s a simple whodunnit taking place in a car showroom after a salesman is found dead in the boot of one of their products. Cars form an extended metaphor throughout for not only sex, but also the male psyche (leading to some insecurity from our heroic and normally unflappable D.I. Armstrong).
It’s a neat re-introduction for his character that allows the hackneyed shorthand of driving to illustrate his own shortcomings. On the flip-side, we do get strong women taking part in the analogy; making things confusing for our man Jack.
Tonally, Vexed jumps around like no other show; hopping from misery to giggles in mere seconds with a range of gags from the physical to smart to musical puns. It’s these shifts which make the show such a joy, there’s really nothing like it at the moment (though one could argue that it’s a detective version of Doctor Who).
Similarly it’s these very facets which make Vexed such a hard sell for the BBC – how do they promote it? What do they market it as? Too funny for cop show, too coppy for sitcom. And it’s most certainly not a comedy drama.
Already there doesn’t seem to have been much fanfare from the channel about the show’s return which is hugely disappointing. BBC Two have got something incredible on their hands, again, and they should have faith in the viewers to enjoy a programme so full of character, life and humour. A rarity these days.
Airs at 9pm on Wednesday 1st August 2012 on BBC Two.
Are you looking forward to Series 2? Let us know below…