New Jed Mercurio-produced series.
The latest crime series from the Jed Mercurio production line – DI Ray – aired on ITV last week and starred Parminder Nagra in a cop saga set in England’s second city, Birmingham.
I’m from the area and have often thought Birmingham in particular has been woefully under-represented on television in recent memory. This is a shame because the city, its multi-cultural make-up and its rich history deserve to make it fertile ground for modern dramas (I’m discounting Peaky Blinders here).
All of this coupled with the fact that DI Ray heralded the return to these shores of Parminder Nagra – a fine actress who has been working in the US for pretty much two decades – made this series an intriguing proposition.
It started when Detective Inspector Rachita Ray – or at least at this stage plain PC Ray – handles a potentially disastrous incident involving a man with a knife in the middle of the city’s Centenary Square. For her bravery and skill, she was awarded a big, fat promotion – to DI – and told that she was “exactly what we need”. She was tasked with solving a murder by heading up a new ‘culturally-specific homicides’ department.
The victim – a man named Imran Aziz – had been seemingly killed… well, it looked as though it had something to do with honour (Aziz had a girlfriend called Anjuli Kapoor and the two came from different backgrounds). That’s why the higher-ups wanted Ray on the case – because she was Asian and the thinking was that her cultural links (and her brown skin, let’s be honest) might give her an inside track.
In a police force that is striving to get away from awful stereotypes (and in the real world, awful, institutionalised racism), this ain’t it. Neither are some of the subtle snipes she received from those inside the station as she settled into her job.
In the early going, DI Ray set itself up as an interesting and timely study of the kind of subtle, everyday racism (perhaps conscious, perhaps not) that many Asian police officers have to deal with.
However, as time marched inexorably on, DI Ray settled into something far more familiar and predictable – a fairly bog-standard procedural.
Ray’s partner (and soon to be fiancé) DCI Martyn Hunter (Jamie Bamber), looked dodgy from the start and so he proved to be at the end of episode three. Also in that episode, we saw Ray and her colleague – PS Tony Khatri – develop an intimate relationship. Feeling lonely, put upon by her bosses and unsure of her relationship with Hunter, they forged a close bond. The scenes that showed this (getting drunk in a pub and dancing to bhangra) were just terrific, touching and hugely watchable.
Except we all know what happens when writers build a character up and allow us to root for them on an emotional level. Especially in Jed Mercurio dramas (although it has to be said, DI Ray was written by Maya Sodhi, a Line Of Duty alumnus) – they get killed off.
And sure enough, PS Tony Khatri was gunned down on Ray’s doorstep after an illicit meeting.
The shooting was meant to be shocking, but we’re so used to this device in Mercurio dramas I do wonder if the impact is now a bit lost.
As I mentioned, what threatened to be a really interesting story descended into something familiar, and rather dull actually.
The best moments in this series came when it did examine cultural juxtaposition and delved deeper into the customs and mores of the Asian community in Birmingham.
However, attention soon shifted to a bearded gangland big bad who was importing drugs and smuggling people into the country.
Saying all of that, Parminder Nagra played Ray with skill – her’s was a character that was desperate to prove herself in the face of cultural stereotyping and worse. She was determined, human and likeable.
So even though, in the end, DI Ray was a disappointment, I would like to see her again with stronger material. Log this as a platform with the hope of better things to come.
DI Ray shown on ITV in the UK and can now be streamed on ITV Hub