How to present a mystery? When revitalising Conan Doyle’s detective for a new generation in Sherlock (alongside co-creator Mark Gatiss), writer Steven Moffat delighted in seemingly unsolvable problems, solved.
The writer has the power, clearly, but if the audience doesn’t follow then what you are left with is a smug savant. Which is as good as a way of introducing Stanley Tucci’s character in Moffat’s latest show, Inside Man, as any.
What Is Inside Man About?
Ticking down the clock on death row for the brutal murder of his wife, softly-spoken former criminologist Jefferson Grieff (Tucci, Citadel) has a side line in solving mysteries that no-one else can solve.
The answer is seemingly obvious to him, though he feels the need to walk his clients through the mire before arriving in the clear. Sceptical journalist Beth Davenport (Lydia West) remains unconvinced. That is, until a friend of hers seemingly disappears.
Over its four episode run there are, at least at first, two separate plots running concurrently. An ocean away from death row detectives is bubbling up a dangerous misunderstanding.
Affable vicar Harry Watling (David Tennant, Good Omens) struggles to convince his teenage son’s smart but spikey tutor, Janice (Dolly Wells) as to the ownership of a flash drive of illegal images she has just discovered. He can’t let her leave, thus breathing life into Grieff’s philosophy that anyone is capable of anything given the right circumstances.
The clockwork of crime-solving in Inside Man clunks with even more noisy preposterousness than Sherlock did.
Similarly, the justification loops that Tennant’s vicar burbles to get us to the meat of his side of Inside Man’s drama feels like the Writer God Hand dictating it must be so, because we’ve got three more episodes to set up dagnammit.
Inside Man Official Trailer
Is Inside Man Worth Watching?
At a certain point ‘suspension of disbelief’ becomes the mantra to be repeated: to get to the good stuff we have to go along with a touch of being poked down the maze.
Why? Because Moffat continues to stuff his shows with great characters and great actors to fill them. Tennant’s tortured dilemma and wilful blindness are superbly contrasted with the frank and forthright delivery of Wells, which is less ‘cat and mouse’ more ‘rabbit in headlights’.
Tennant reigns in his propensity for high energy output to deliver a broiling core of hand-wringing self-delusion which is highly effective. Wells, in contrast, excels in dramatic pragmatism and her steely puncturing of Tennant’s hot air is delivered with edge of seat conviction.
Similarly, though the mental gymnastics of Tucci’s character may beggar belief, he twinkles with untold secrets and faint deflections. Paired up with fellow death row comedy foil (Atkins Estimond – loaded up with macabre one-liners), the duo’s knowledge that nothing is as bad as the worst that is to come gives them a confidence that shines on screen.
Lydia West is left the thankless task of dashing about to unwittingly tie Plot A to Plot B. Even if she is buffered by the winds of plot she fits in a heavy dose of contempt and hard-nosed professionalism in her scenes with Tucci that keeps the energy flowing throughout.
If you are coming to Inside Man for any kind of detective angle then it will likely frustrate you.
What you do get though is a carefully crafted drama with characters put under intense pressure, and seasoned actors who beam a connection through your TV so that you can’t help but want to watch as events play out.
You’ve got a man on the inside, and it’s Moffat with a sharp pen jabbing you for kicks.
Words by Mike Record