David Morrissey stars in "Thorne." (Jay Maidment, Encore )
David Morrissey, a good-looking big lug of a British leading man with a talent for playing tortured rectitude, is the star and producer of "Thorne," a detective drama airing Tuesday and Wednesday on Encore.
The series, to stretch the term — it ran in six parts in the U.K. in 2010, but here takes the form of back-to-back feature films — adapts two novels by Mark Billingham, "Thorne: Sleepyhead" and "Thorne: Scaredy Cat," both of which concern apparent serial murders. Its visual tics seem imported from American procedurals like"CSI,"and if they make "Thorne" seem contemporary and excite its surface, they can also obscure whatever human story they have to tell; you can't see the grit for the gloss. There is also a tediously artsy, almost epicurean regard for the work of the psycho killer, a convention I've never much trusted or liked, but which has become standard for the form.
One thing "Thorne" makes clear, alongside shows like"Luther"and Steven Moffat's 21st century"Sherlock,"is that the quaint old London of Hercule Poirot and Peter Wimsey is all but gone as a setting for crime stories. The landmarks of the new school are not Big Ben and the Tower Bridge but the London Eye and that big glass building Londoners call the Gherkin, among less metaphors; in the inhospitable, hard-edged city "Thorne" roams, even the old derelict buildings (where a killer might hide or a body be abandoned) are of comparatively recent vintage.
Such chilliness notwithstanding, one does feel for Thorne, not the least because Morrissey naturally attracts sympathy, even when he plays characters who don't really deserve it. There's not much we're shown about the character, past that he likes country music, has an aging father who likes corny jokes (the show is surprisingly short on humor) and that he's basically a nice guy who could use a little love. He has, seemingly, but a single friend, a pathologist played by Aidan Gillen (Mayor Tommy Carcetti on"The Wire," Littlefinger on"Game of Thrones"), with whom he shares a dark secret. In the way of fictional detectives, he is also an intuitive genius and a marvel of quick physical recovery.
If "Thorne" is not exactly enjoyable, it does generate a good degree of tension and dread, and some quite unpleasant scares. And certain of its devices — a key witness in "Sleepyhead" is a victim of "locked-in syndrome," conscious but paralyzed, but her inner monologues actively contribute to the action — are very well realized and creepily effective. (Sara Lloyd-Gregory is excellent in the part.)
The supporting cast includes Natascha McElhone as a neurologist to whom Thorne takes a liking; Sandra Oh, from "Grey's Anatomy," putting on an English accent — somewhat disconcerting, until you realize that, yes, that is Sandra Oh with an English accent — as a troubled detective; and Eddie Marsan as a fellow inspector unnaturally bent on bringing Thorne down.
When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)