It’s been a long, cold winter and the number of TV shows which have been delayed because of the pandemic is really starting to bite. Usually we’d be spoiled for choice at this time of year but what with the lack of big budget dramas coming out and the sheer amount of TV we’re currently consuming (hello, 36 episodes of Married at First Sight Australia), it often feels as if there's nothing to watch at all.
Which is why it’s marvellous that ITV favourite Unforgotten is finally back for its fourth season after being delayed thanks to – you guessed it – the pandemic.
Starring Nicola Walker as DCI Cassie Stuart with Sanjeev Bhaskar as her DI Sunny Khan, this smart detective drama focuses on a police team that investigates cold cases. Each series introduces a seemingly unconnected group of people whose lives are slowly woven together over the six-episode arc as the police uncover the truth about a decades-old murder. The last time we saw DCI Stuart, she was about to take a leave of absence, the mental strain of investigating a thoroughly hideous crime and the events that transpired in season three leaving her more broken than she's ever been in her career.
As we start season four, we find DCI Stuart unable to return to work, afraid of the trauma that may await her at her post. Due to budget constraints, management refuses to waive her last three months before a fully paid retirement and she's left with no choice but to head back to active duty. While a devastating blow, it’s good news for DI Khan and the team as a headless body has just turned up in a freezer at a dump in Haringey. The team thinks it might be a young man who went missing back in 1990, if the vintage Snickers wrapper in his pocket is anything to go by.
We meet a cast of characters across the UK, from the well-to-do Cambridge professor with a difficult ageing mother to the second-generation businessman who's made his family proud in Southall. In Rochester we're introduced to a loving father to a disabled son with some serious cash in his back pocket and in the Peak District there's a a therapist with a past she'd rather not revisit. How these four people fit into the 30-year-old murder is anyone’s guess but DCI Stuart is willing to go searching for the answer – providing it doesn’t break her first.
The success of Unforgotten lies largely in Nicola Walker's hands. Walker, who's quietly become one of Britain's best loved actresses over the years, plays DCI Stuart with a refreshing twist on the hard-boiled detective. Sure, she's tough and smart but she's human, too. Her relationships with her son and ailing father make for compelling plot points rather than feeling shoehorned in as an afterthought and her friendship with DI Khan is honest and emotional. Even more, her willingness to recognise her own mental health issues is commendable, especially in a genre which regularly laughs in the face of mental healthcare and where therapy is seen as a weakness. In short, DCI Stuart feels like an actual, real-life woman who also happens to be a brilliant detective.
With inside time looking set to continue a little while longer and more quality TV much needed, fingers crossed the rest of the series is as promising as this first episode. Lord knows there's only so much Married at First Sight Australia a woman can take.
Unforgotten is on ITV at 9pm on Monday 22nd February. Seasons 1-3 are on Netflix.