Shocking scenes at the start of the second series of ITV’s The Bay. A jolly retirement party for family solicitor Bill Bradwell (James Cosmo) is interrupted by the arrival of a courier at the door. Bill’s slightly soppy son-in-law and partner in his law firm, Stephen Marshbrook (Stephen Tompkinson), goes to answer. He is shot dead on his own doorstep in front of 10-year old son Jamie (Jack Archer), the little boy’s face suddenly all spattered and freckled with Daddy’s warm blood.
All hell breaks loose, obviously, and soon to arrive on this ugly scene are newly demoted Detective Constable Lisa Armstrong (Morven Christie, grim-visaged as ever) and her inexperienced boss (and former sidekick) Detective Ahmed “Med” Kharkim, a thoroughly wet young man who seems to be the West Lancashire Police Service’s answer to Gavin Williamson. (You may recall that Armstrong was caught in an unethical liaison in the last series and is lucky to still have a job. So she’s more miserable and frustrated than ever.)
What happened to Stephen? Not the dramatic victim Stephen Marshbrook, mind you – who cares about him? – but the well-known actor playing him, ie Stephen Tompkinson. Some four minutes and 26 seconds in and he’s kaput. It’s disturbing when the obvious biggest name on the show takes an early bath, so to speak. It’s really not the done thing. But the assassin pumped two bullets in, to make sure, head and chest shots. Classic. Knew what he was doing; no chance of survival. Tompkinson/Marshbrook was only wearing a shirt, plus there was claret everywhere, so there could be no far-fetched storyline about a bulletproof vest. Nor, even, an unconvincing plot twist where Tompkinson/Marshbrook somehow got past the Covid queue and is unconscious in intensive care. No: DOA, as they say on the cop shows.
The questions are urgent. Why have the scriptwriters dispatched Tompkinson so early? Was there some catastrophic mix-up at the casting stage? Will his fee be correspondingly reduced for such a modest cameo? Or will we have to keep seeing him – because he is such a relatively big star – in confusing flashbacks all the way through? Or – God forbid – will they try and break new ground for a British police procedural by having Tompinkson’s trademark gurning and twitching features returning in romantic spectral form, like Patrick Swayze in Ghost? I’m afraid my speculations on all this are much more intriguing than the standard line-up of suspects in this murder of a “seemingly ordinary man”.
Marshbrook might have been done in on the orders of his brother-in-law (professional envy); by his father-in-law (just for being annoying); by his nice wife (ditto); or his wild child daughter (ditto) – but that all seems inconsequential. So, sadly, is everything else in the story, despite the actors putting in some commendable performances. They are all lumbered with carelessly constructed, barely two-dimensional characters, such as Daniel Ryan doing his best with the gruff-with-a-heart-of-gold DI Anthony “Tony” Manning. Incidental as he is, he deserves the Queen’s Police Medal for outstanding bravery in the face of such a hostile script. Cliche-ridden and knackered before the end of the first episode of a six-hour story arc, The Bay really isn’t good enough, not even for passing the time in lockdown.