If you come to ITV Van der Valk Without knowing that this is a reboot of a 1970s crime series about a detective in Amsterdam, it won’t take long for you to realize what’s in store.
Starting with the mutilated body of a crucified woman next to a windmill before diving into confusing crossfade edits and launching into cheesy opening credits, Van Der Valk’s new iteration takes less of three minutes to establish its fundamentals: bloody murders, Amsterdam and total naffness.
Commissioners Piet Van Der Valk returned to our screens in 2020 with Marc Warren (best known for Hustle) in the lead role. The first of three features in series two sees Van Der Valk and his crack team of caricatures – the capable female partner having nothing to do but ironically tease the male lead; the classic nerd who comes to unlikely conclusions; the arrogant light-relief and eccentric jazz-aficionado pathologist – tackling a series of gruesome murders that appear to be tied to the history of Amsterdam itself.
Combining an elaborately staged homicide attempt and an underlying sociopolitical commentary from The bridge with convoluted and bombastic clues in the manner of The “Da Vinci Code” – in this case, leaving notes containing quotes from the 17th Dutch philosopher Spinoza written in extremely rare calligraphy ink with each of the victims – Van Der Valk strokes around Amsterdam with all the subtlety of a bachelor party .
The crucified woman turns out to be a lawyer (killed with rat poison) who recently won a case for the city to evict a bohemian community of artists in order to develop the land into a tourist attraction. His death is followed by the drowning of a public relations officer who buried a report in favor of the so-called squatters and the property developer who was burned alive. Someone is not at all happy with the outcome of this court case. The deaths, the encyclopedic nerd tells us, reflect the three scourges facing Amsterdam’s old town – the Black Death, fire and flood – which are represented on the city’s flag by three crosses (now engraved in the flesh of the victims).
As the police make wild deductions that turn out to be correct, they interrogate an insufferable list of suspects. One – the first victim’s husband – is a slimy corporate lawyer who reacts to police questioning with the attitude of a particularly haughty customer at a fancy restaurant. Indeed, he is so unconcerned about murdering his wife or being a suspect that he conducts not one but two (!) police interviews while swimming naked on a rooftop pool. A thread about domestic violence only seems to be there to provide additional naughtiness to his character and is thrown away as quickly as he is lifted.
Instead, an odd amount of time is spent on Van Der Valk’s new romance, which feels utterly pointless and yet needs several cuts in its breathless new pressure through the episode’s climax when we know nothing. from her.
Usually multilayer would be a compliment, but Van De Valk muddy his own (canal) waters at every opportunity. The plot suggests that she wants to tell a harrowing story of social injustice; the execution is imagined as a bloody gambol; the dialogue, full of oddly flippant and sarcastic banter in the face of brutal murders, implies he wants to raise a wry eyebrow at his kind; while the schlocky editing and tone-deaf shots feel like a painful homage to its 1970s origins. There are no surprises here; only the eyes.
Amsterdam looks good, though.