Case Histories (ep 1) – review

Episode one (based on Case Histories by Kate Atkinson):

While searching for a lost cat, Jackson takes on the cold case of a girl who went missing thirty years earlier. He is also talked into helping a grieving father find the man who murdered his daughter, and tracking down the niece of a mysterious seductress.


When I first heard of this show, back in 2010 when it was in development, this was my thought process: three critically acclaimed novels + two amazing writers (the same team behind the original Life on Mars) + one brilliant actor (Jason Isaacs) = TV bliss. And as it turns out, Case Histories isn’t just as good as I hoped it would be – it’s even better.

This first episode, the eponymous “Case Histories”, is an absolutely brilliant parade of character studies. There is no single character in this series that isn’t entirely three dimensional and fascinatingly off kilter – there are no rosy paradigms of good guys and bad guys in this show, no tired archetypes or stand ins. Case Histories is populated by humans in all their weird, broken, and even surprisingly sweet glory, and it bowls over ever tried and true method we detective show aficionados have for fingering the killer. This show explores the true shades of human behavior, and as such the potential for violence lurks in the shadow of every character. The same character would creep me out one moment and charm me in the next, and I never could tell which shoe was going to drop. Case Histories kept me off balance at ever turn, and I loved it. All in all this show is a bafflingly brilliant display of acting and writing talent.

And speaking of acting talent, Jason Isaacs should absolutely win some kind of award for his work here. A dependably brilliant actor, Isaacs finally gets to show us the full range of what he can do – and what he can do is phenomenal. The nuances he brings to this role, the fine line he is able to walk as he keeps Brodie a flawed yet utterly sympathetic human being, a man it’s impossible for women not to want, even knowing full well he would never treat us right. Jackson Brodie is a detective much like Philip Marlowe – a man whose integrity gets him beat up a lot, whose own worst enemy is himself; a man who can solve everyone’s problems but his own. Brodie is the kind of man who will get on his hands and knees to help a batty client find a lost cat, who will screw indiscriminately any woman who makes eyes at him, and who loves his young daughter more than anything in the world – though it doesn’t stop him from being careless with her. And Jason Isaacs brings it all stunningly to life. Great Scott the man can act.

As I have yet to read the books, I can’t say for certain if this episode does the first book justice – but I suspect even die hard Kate Atkinson fans will be impressed. This is adult drama at its very finest, and I give you fair warning, it is very likely going to ruin you for boilerplate American cop shows. This kind of quality is a rare and wondrous thing – you absolutely cannot miss it. 

Case Histories premieres 9 PM, October 16 on PBS.