Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier build the perfect TV detective in The Guardian


The Guardian newspaper (UK) contains a very funny interview with writers Charlie Brooker and Daniel Maier for their upcoming spoof cop show series A Touch Of Cloth. Here, they discuss which body parts are needed to make the perfect TV detective.

The head of Lewis

LewisA bit of Lewis. Illustration: Matt Blease
Charlie Brooker If a TV detective didn’t have demons and spent their downtime surfboarding or playing Boggle and laughing, I don’t think you’d stand for it. You have to justify showing hideous murder by balancing it out in the life of your protagonist. Otherwise people might start to think, “Oh, this is almost like death porn I’m watching.” Every detective drama has to have the appearance of being a weighty examination of the human condition, otherwise people start to get uncomfortable.
Daniel Maier Everyone has to have a demon. The dead wife. The drinking problem. Dead wife is quite a good one: Lewis’s wife died in a car accident. It’s something the show can cash in on later.

The heart of Sarah Lund

CB You’ve got to have constant conflict. It’s not like they ever go home to their wife and she says, “I know you forgot our anniversary, but it’s fine.” Every 10 minutes in The Killing, Sarah Lund was getting phone calls from her fiance, or that fucking kid she had, always moaning on: “It was school sports day and you missed it.” And as a viewer you go, “For God’s sake, she’s on the trail of a killer … ” This new bloke her mother’s seeing has a nut allergy. Sarah Lund isn’t listening because she’s looking at a clue, so she nearly kills him with a cake.

DM It’s the married-to-the-job business. It’s the spirit vacuum, sucking all the life and hope out of you, and all the ability to love. There’s no point in falling in love, because everyone dies.

The tongues of Starsky & Hutch

CB They usually talk back, because the boss is an arsehole. Or one who is “I’ve got statistics I’ve got to keep up and you’re letting the side down … Can’t you cut a few corners?” We’ve gone for a slightly grand boss: he thinks the world swirls around him. Which it sort of does with some of the Steadicam nonsense we’ve got going on. The boss is an arsehole, and even if the cop is an arsehole, he’s generally still in the right.

DM There’s quite a limited range of boss tropes: the paper-pusher, so you get the renegade cop coming up against the suit. Starsky & Hutch’s boss was always, “I’ve got the mayor breathing down my neck – you’ve got 24 hours to clean up the town and get him off my case.”

The livers of Bunk, McNulty and Tennison

McNulty and Bunk give up their partsMcNulty and Bunk give up their parts. Illustration: Matt Blease

CB The Wire had Bunk and McNulty constantly boozing and they would play it comically. But you were also left in no doubt that they were two broken individuals. These detectives aren’t dancing around with traffic cones on their heads and taking Facebook photos. They like to imply that to catch people who are fucked up, you have to be fucked up yourself.

DM It ties in with the dead wife; it’s a wife replacement. And, of course, it’s more jeopardy, another thing to keep from the boss. It took them a few series before they did it, but they did it in Prime Suspect. “In case of emergency, you can break the ‘alcoholic’ glass.”

The stomach of Laure Berthaud

CB There was an autopsy scene from Spiral where Berthaud was like, “Let me just scalp this corpse and wear its hair like a hat.” There’s a cliche of a pathologist who is eating a sandwich while dissecting someone. One of the reasons these shows exist is to deliver a morbid thrill, like those supermarket magazines called ‘Take A Chat!’. The front page is always “I WAS STABBED IN THE EYE!” above a picture of someone smiling. It delivers horror and gore, but in a way that it isn’t like a horror movie. Showing your detective being miserable means you can have a five-minute autopsy scene, because it helps to illustrate why the detective is such a mess.

DM It’s quite a contemporary thing, very post-Se7en. It became more acceptable to do these baroque murders, to show the blood and guts. It gave rise to its own tropes: the vomiting rookie, the nonchalant pathologist. I call those “blue boob shows” because there’s always a woman in the mortuary, where you get a glimpse of a slightly rotten tit in the corner of the screen.

The groins of Rohde & Morse

CB If you put a man and a woman on screen, you start thinking, “Oh, I wonder if they’re going to do it?” When I first watched The Bridge I thought they were setting it up that the two of them [Saga Norén and Martin Rohde] were going to go off together. They still had to imply that he was a waster who sleeps around. You then realise that they’ve only done that to illustrate something about his past. Basically, the whole thing is his penis’s fault. He should have offered to blow his penis off with a gun.

DM Whenever that theme starts, whether it’s with Morse or Lewis or whoever, you’ve got this whole zip file that you can unpack to see what’s going to happen: a flirtation, a missed opportunity because he’s not going to want to expose himself to the risk. And if he does it’ll go wrong or the woman will be murdered.

A Touch of Cloth is on Sunday, 9pm, Sky1

The weirdest job interview

Hands down this has to be the weirdest job interview I’ve ever had. I’ve tried to find the name of the company it was with but I’ve not come across them, and it was back in 2007. My memory with names is cloudy like a Scottish mountain.

I like to try all different kinds of writing; scripts, comics, stories, books, so when I saw a vague ad on gumtree for an advertising firm in a nearby town I wondered if they needed any copywriters.

I applied and was offered an interview, so along I went to a smallish office building in Colchester and saw another nervous looking girl. “What time is your interview?” I asked.

“Two,” she replied. Same as mine. Odd, I thought, they must have two different interview rooms.

But no. They didn’t. A man in his early twenties and rivers of gel in his hair opened an office door and invited us both in. I wondered if we would have to fight to the death.

“This company,” he said, “gets everyone to start at grass-roots level, so we all have experience of each different part.”

I furrowed my brow. Surely everyone didn’t work in graphics, not everybody can do that?

“I’m only 24,” he continued, “and I have my own office and blah blah blah…” I began to drift away. He just went on, and on, and on about how great it was to have loads of money. It’s not my money, what do I care?

We both had to answer a myriad of questions, pretending to be people a company would want to hire. Eventually it came to an end and we went our seperate ways, but I quickly realised I had no idea what I’d just been interviewed for. The answer to every question I’d asked had floated deep within a cloud of management-speak.

However I was still pleased when I was asked back for another interview. This time there was no second girl and the gel-money-monster came to sit next to me in the waiting room.

“Today you’ll be shadowing these two,” he pointed out a male and female, both in their early twenties.

“OK,” I said, “but I wanted to ask, what exactly do you all do?”

“Different companies trust us,” he said, voice slanting into the ‘I’m giving a pitch’ tone once again, “to make other people aware of them and to raise their profile.”

“Yes,” I said, impatiently raising my hand, “but on a day-to-day basis, what would I be doing?”

“We inform the public of the companies we reperesent and let them know the work they do.”

“Right,” I snapped, getting quite cross, “so I could just stand out there,” I pointed to the window, “and tell people in the street?”

“Well, not exactly,” he said, blushing. “But anyway, go with (I’ve forgotten their names, I will call the girl Foofy and the boy Mr Fuffykins).”

So I got into a car with them, which seems a bit mental on reflection but at the time politeness forbids us from going against instruction. On the way Foofy pointed out a car she could see and told us how much she wanted one. She then informed us how close to purchasing it with all her recently earned lovely money she was. I wondered if I’d accidentally joined a cult.

The revelation came over lunch. We were eating fried chicken when I was told we would be literally trying to sell a company, or get people to sign up to it (I still don’t really understand) by speaking to them – cold-calling – door to door.

“You can do that can’t you?” asked Foofy.

“Um, yes?” I said. I still don’t know why I said yes.

We pulled into a residential area in Dunmow and I was given a jacket to put on.”I’ll take the odd number doors and you two take the evens,” instructed Foofy.

‘Speak,’ I told myself, and my voice sat at the bottom of my throat until I forced it up. “Um, I can’t do this,” I said in a weird, squeaky way.

They both stared at me. I made myself repeat it. “I can’t go door to door.”

They began to deliberate. “There’s a bus station nearby, it’s not far to walk,” said Mr Fuffykins.

“We can’t just leave her here,” said Foofy, a touch bitterly as though she wished they could.

In the end I convinced them to drop me off in town, where I had a coke and thought about things before I made my way home. The moral of the story is, when someone talks management-speak just start crying until they explain themselves.

Atlantic Channel, or HBO

I just want to add a quick post to profess my love for this channel. Often when I watch TV I think, ‘this show could have been good if…’ but the majority of stuff I watch on Atlantic (UK) you know you’re watching really good writing, acting, directing, comedy etc: Boardwalk Empire, In Treatment, Mad Men, The Ricky Gervais Show, The Wire, I love it…