Encore is so weird.
No, seriously: if you look at the programming slates of the various premium cable networks, the Encore business model just seems very, very strange. Even as their sister station, Starz, is slowly but surely trying to spiff up its reputation as a home for top-shelf original programming, with series like Boss and Magic City, Encore offers a scraggly-toothed grin, holds Thorne up by the scruff of its neck, and says, “Look what I brung ya: a series that done ran in the UK two years ago!” It’s what they did last year with the 2009 miniseries The Take, and it’s what they’re doing now with the 2010 drama Thorne, adapted from the series of novels by Mark Billingham. This isn’t to suggest that these former Sky 1 programs are of poor quality. It’s just that, y’know, they’re two years past their original sell date, so what’s there to get excited about?
In the case of Thorne, the answer is David Morrissey.
Let’s not pretend it was anything other than coincidental, but from a timing standpoint, Encore must be thrilled that Morrissey, whose profile has never been what you’d call sky high in the States, recently got a solid bump with the revelation that he had been cast to play The Governor in the upcoming third season of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Here, Morrissey plays Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, a man who continues to solve murder investigations while still reeling from the emotional repercussions left by his dealings with the now-deceased serial killer Frank Calvert (Brian McCardie).
Thorne isn’t what you’d call the most pleasant and personable fellow in the world, but when he’s on a case, he’s got an instinct for detecting guilt that’s virtually second to none, a fact acknowledged by most everyone in his department, if occasionally begrudgingly, as is the case with his former partner, Kevin Tughan (Eddie Marsan). New guy Dave Holland (O.T. Fagbenle), however, is practically ready to worship at Thorne’s feet, so much is he in awe of the reports of his detective work. When a case comes up involving a series of women being murdered via chemical methods that look suspiciously like a stroke, Thorne jumps in with both feet. Things really begin to take off in the investigation when the killer’s latest victim, Alison (Sarah Lloyd Gregory), turns up alive, if far from what you’d call well, given that she is almost completely paralyzed and unable to speak so much as a word. Between Tom, Kevin, Dave, and Tom’s best bud, coroner Phil Hendricks (Aiden Gillen), everyone’s on the case, trying to find the sick son of a bitch responsible, while Tom also finds a new friend in the form of Anne Coburn (Natascha McElhone), who’s doing her best to keep poor Alison’s spirits high.
Sleepyhead spends a great deal of time building the back stories of its character, particularly Tom, to the point where it’s hardly the most surprising revelation in the world to discover that their mysterious attacker actually ties into Tom’s history with the aforementioned Frank Calvert. More impressive is the decision to use an internal monologue to help flesh out poor Alison, thereby making a mute invalid into one of the more intriguing characters of the production. The buddy-buddy relationship between Tom and Phil is notable as well, for occasionally bringing a bit of levity into play. Overall, however, Sleepyhead is extremely dark, resulting in some harrowing viewing before all’s said and done.
Still grim but ultimately less creatively successful, Scaredy Cat finds Thorne tackling another case, this time a series of murders, one of which left a young boy orphaned, which may or may not have been committed by a pair of serial killers. Unlike Sleepyhead, however, the mystery of Scaredy Cat is one that is easy to predict the solution to. Although the solution isn’t technically revealed until late in the proceedings, I saw it coming up Main Street, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. As such, it’s hard to do much more than ho-hum and wait for the inevitable reveal, which makes it a bit of a drag to watch, particularly in the third chapter. Fortunately, Thorne’s cohorts do continue to get quite a bit of screen time as well, although it’s notable that McElhone is nowhere to be seen, her importance on the series—if not necessarily anything else about her—is switched out in favor of Sandra Oh, of all people.Not that there's anything wrong with Ms. Oh, per se, but it's just strange to see the star of a current American TV series (Grey's Anatomy) suddenly pop up in the midst of a UK series, particularly playing a coked-up doctor.
Although the two Thorne sagas—Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat—were screened in the UK over the course of a six-week period, with each story divided into three segments, Encore has instead decided to meld each three-segment story into one really, really long story, thereby enabling them to air Sleepyhead and Scaredy Cat on back-to-back nights. This might have been convenient for the network, but for viewers, the end result is that Thorne’s adventures occasionally feel as though they’ve been going on forever, which is not exactly the sort of sensation you want to inspire in the people watching your programming. The shows are still solid, thanks to Morrissey’s charismatic efforts as Tom Thorne, but they’re definitely not as succinct as they might’ve been.