Is 'Ashes To Ashes' back in style?

Only in Ashes To Ashes could you be treated to a winning combination of Princess Margaret encountering a giant penis and the lead character's daughter getting a ticking off from Grange Hill's Mrs McClusky. Kicking off the second season in fine Eighties style, the episode neatly blends a self-contained murder mystery plot alongside the ongoing intrigue surrounding Alex Drake's comatose predicament.

No radical alterations have been made to the show's format, ensuring that a steady flow of laughs are interspersed with the more dramatic and emotional aspects of the storyline. Gene Hunt's quips are as crude as ever (although nothing matches his legendary 'twanging of the royal hymen' line) and it's a treat to see Philip Glenister strutting back onto our screens free of any demonic American accent. Keeley Hawes has settled into her role as Alex Drake and exudes an underlying warmth and fragility that counterbalances the ballsy front she puts on in front of her boisterous male colleagues. It was certainly a surprise to see Drake cleaning Gene's snakeskin boots, but fortunately the sexual chemistry between her and Hunt feels more natural and less forced than last season.

The most noticeable change is the prominence of the Ray Carling/Chris Skelton double act, with the amusing pair receiving more screen time than before. This works very well, with their strip club antics causing much mirth, along with their doomed attempts to break news of the policeman's death to his colleague. As for Skelton's 'Full Monty', Shaz wasn't the only viewer impressed. This scene superbly shows how the series seamlessly intertwines nostalgia and contemporary culture with a postmodern twist.

Having dealt with the mysterious demise of Drake's parents in the previous season's finale, two new ongoing story arcs are quickly established. Firstly, the presence of Superintendent Mackintosh ensures that policing methods and corruption will come to the fore in the future, with Gene Hunt's conduct certain to come under Drake's moralistic spotlight. Secondly, it looks like we'll be teased in coming weeks with the identity of the figure who abducted Drake and escaped before Hunt could nab him. There's certainly a strong suggestion that the abductor could be Drake's doctor, with the line between the real and fictional worlds starting to blur.

The evocation of the early Eighties is as enjoyably stylised as ever, with the skinny ties and Skelton's comedy hair providing visual flourishes to accompany a blistering soundtrack that includes Duran Duran, ABC and Adam Ant. The Grange Hill clip works well as fluffy nostalgia and a reminder of Drake's desperation to see her daughter again, and whets the appetite for future appearances from Eighties icons Morph, Keith Harris and Orville in future episodes. Let's hope they bear the same impact and 'wow factor' as the previous season's surreal appearance by Zippy from Rainbow.

Confident and assured, Ashes To Ashes' second season has started in greatly promising style, ticking all the right boxes without ever feeling contrived. The Quattro has roared back onto the scene bearing plenty of laughs, drama and cracking performances.


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