I was not wrong. It is a really different show with a strong cast and a really great premise. It will be hard not to reveal some secrets to viewers who have not watched, but I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum.
River is a middle aged Swedish Detective on an East London Beat. He is investigating the alleged murder of a young girl about to go to university, whose boyfriend claims to have killed her but will not tell police how or where the body is. He is taciturn, just a tiny bit introverted and has a propensity to talk to himself, or so people think...
The fact is the spirits or shades ( Manifests as River terms them) of the dead are actually talking to him. His most regular conversations are with Stevie, his female partner who was murdered in front of him. The revelation of this turn of events, was one of the most clever and chilling set piece starts to a series I have ever seen and were it not for the fact that I knew the secret already, it alone would have cemented my love for this show in the first seven minutes.
There is much to love, the cast are superb, character actors with not a stereo type amongst them. Stellen Skaarsgard brings a stillness and a gentleness to the role of River that in other hands might have seemed creepy or overdone, but the precision and timing of the delivery of his lines is just perfect. His relationship with Stevie was obviously deeply felt, a woman who even in death breaks through his shell and makes him smile. I suspect there was more there but I am sure future episodes will elucidate.
Lesley Manville plays a sympathetic, but no nonsense boss who respects River despite his idiosyncrasies and is dying to protect him from media attention after the shocking events of the opening and it's aftermath.
Adeel Akhtar is the new partner sent to take Stevie's place. Fans of Channel Four's Utopia will recognise him as Nelson Nelson ( not a typo!).He is equally well utilised in this, his acceptance of the oddness of the situation and River's behaviour is akin to a child watching an eccentric parent, there is respect there, but also a level of embarrassment.
The addition of Eddie Marsan to the cast is genius. His creepy turn as Thomas Cream, Doctor and murderer of note who actually existed is actually quite inspired.
(Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (27 May 1850 – 15 November 1892), also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish-Canadian serial killer, who claimed his first proven victims in the United States and the rest in England, and possibly others in Canada and Scotland. Cream, who poisoned his victims, was executed after his attempts to frame others for his crimes brought him to the attention of London police. Unsubstantiated rumours suggested his last words as he was being hanged were a confession that he was Jack the Ripper—even though he was in prison at the time of the Ripper murders.)
He is manifesting to River to pass on creepy judgements about murder and murderers, a further complication as John struggles with the loss of and adjusts to regular chats with Stevie and the young victim in his current case. The inclusion of Thomas Cream to ground the show in reality is just one of the little details and touches that raises this show above the average cop show with a paranormal element.
He solves the open case because he truly cares about the people left behind as evidenced by the obvious familiarity and affection Stevie's Irish mother and younger brother hold him in when he goes to feed the cat and accidentally falls asleep at the flat. When asked if he was bedding down there by her mother Bridie (Played by the ever brilliant Sorcha Cusack) it is met with mild surprise not annoyance or shock, evidence that he is an accepted part of Stevie's home life as well as her working life.
We have after all seen this before in similar guises in shows like" Perception "in the USA, but River actually leaves me more in mind of the seminal "Life on Mars "than any glitzy Crime show. The setting of the show in a modern East End , with River riding the Docklands Light Railway past the now iconic scrapers of the Docks means there is not the nostalgia in the same way, but the use of an iconic disco tune in the action and titles and it's direct correlation to one of the longest pieces of dialogue from River in the episode is clever as that ear -worm of a ditty makes certain you do not Forget "River" in a hurry.