Vera — probably the best contemporary detective drama on British TV — returns to the U.S. with a fifth season being debuted nationally on Acorn TV. Based on novels by Shetland’s Ann Cleeves, Vera is a no nonsense Northumbrian detective with a brusk exterior and a well buried heart. It’s tempting to describe her as a female Wallander but unlike her Swedish counterpart she doesn’t spend half an hour caught up in self-indulgent introspection before uttering a sentence.
I interviewed leading lady Brenda Blethyn last year and she was an absolute delight. The antithesis of her dowdy onscreen persona. At the time, season 5 was very much up in the air. Like most things these days, it’s fate depended very much on the ratings of season 4. Unsurprisingly (in my view) Vera season 4 was one of the few shows in the UK last year to satisfy the TV critics and have enough appeal to draw in massive numbers of viewers. Season 5 pretty quickly became a formality but as with any long running show the challenge is maintaining the high standards you have set in the past.
Brenda Blethyn returns as the titular character for season five which is of course good news. The not so good news is the fact that her earstwhile companion Joe is no longer on the scene so we run the risk of rocking the boat with the addition of his replacement DS Aiden Healy (Kenny Doughty). I’ve been wary of replacing major characters since Bonnie Langford stepped into the breach left by Nicola Bryant on Doctor Who. However, this changeover goes a lot more smoothly in part because Kenny Doughty is nothing like Bonnie Langford. Moreover, he is not much like DS Joe Ashworth either which is good because his rocky relationship with Vera adds a bit of a spark to the drama. Whereas Joe was a placid kind of family guy, Aiden is arrogant, brash and doesn’t have a great deal of respect for his superiors — including Vera. For the viewers, it’s unusual to be in the position where you look at Vera as the more approachable of the regular detectives but before long Aiden settles down and forms a somewhat amicable working relationship with his boss.
As in previous years, season 5 consists of four self-contained, feature length stories. Over the course of the series we see Vera investigating a deadly fire at a holiday camp, a cold case from 1984, a body in a slurry pit, and a deadly fall at a school prom. The first episode was surprisingly good considering we had to go through the rigmarole of introducing DS Healy but the series really hits its’ stride in episode two and the fourth episode is the one that leaves you begging for more.
Vera season 5 debuts on Acorn TV on 6 July. They will be adding a new episode each week thereafter. Remember you can get access to Acorn TV for the breathtakingly low price of $49.99/year per year. Better yet you can test the water with a 30 day free trial. With Vera on the horizon now might be the time to do just that.