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Plunkett on TV: Ragdoll, Alibi’s six-part modern day Faustian thriller

A serial killer drama that begins with the grisly discovery of a corpse made up of body parts from six different people - the ‘Ragdoll’ of the title - sounds an unlikely source of comedy.

But Ragdoll, Alibi’s six-part modern day Faustian thriller set in London, manages to be wickedly funny and compellingly scary all at the same time.

“I genuinely defy anyone who has watched the first episode to say one second of it is boring,” says Henry Lloyd-Hughes (The Irregulars, Indian Summers) who stars as DS Nathan Rose, one of three detectives on the trail of the killer.

“It has this pace that is like watching a proper thriller, but then on top of that, they are just wisecracking the entire time, so I think it stands up as a thriller and as a comedy.

"It’s like having those two genres flicking from one to the other throughout the entire thing, and it really doesn’t hold back in terms of the cinematic scale of it.”

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It was precisely that breaking of conventions which appealed to Philippa Collie Cousins, commissioning editor, drama, at Alibi’s parent company, UKTV.

Collie Cousins was discussing a separate project with Sally Woodward Gentle, ex-executive producer at Killing Eve producer Sid Gentle Films, when she asked her if she had “anything that’s perhaps a bit more of a mash up”.

“I said I’m interested in darkness with comedy and in something that is progressive and we haven’t seen before,’ recalls Collie Cousins. “Sally laughed and said: ‘I think I know exactly what I’m going to bring you.’ So she sent me Ragdoll.’

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The pitch black humour was already present in Daniel Cole’s Ragdoll trilogy of books, the first of which has been adapted for the screen by writer Freddy Syborn (Bounty Hunters, Bad Education).

Syborn previously worked with Sid Gentle Films writing one episode of Killing Eve and is described by Woodward Gentle as “ferociously clever”.

“It’s Freddy’s approach to character that is so precious, as well as his big brain and his ability to pull apart and put back together a very complicated plot,” she says.

“And his sense of humour, knowing that life is funny even when it’s really grim, so Freddy [and Ragdoll] felt like the perfect combination.”

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Troubled DS Rose is joined in the investigation by his good friend and now boss, DI Emily Baxter, played by Thalissa Teixeira (Two Weeks to Live, The Musketeers), and the new arrival on the team, American cop DC Lake Edmunds played by Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars, Fantasy Island).

And it’s the banter between the three as they get deeper into an increasingly tense and horrific investigation that sets the tone of the piece.

Probably the biggest change to the book - along with making Edmunds a woman - was in revealing Rose’s complicity earlier on.

“When I read the book, my first instinct was that it could be more about guilt and secrets and lies and shame,” says Syborn.

“The book delays the big reveal almost until the end, but I wanted to bring that revelation forward so that by the end of episode one, the audience knows Rose is at least partially responsible for setting off the killing spree.

“He wants to tell Baxter the truth, but he’s afraid that he’ll lose her if he does, so as the series goes on you’re watching him digging himself into a bigger hole, which creates a lot of tension.”

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If elements of the British-American culture clash feed into the humour between the three detectives on-screen then it was also (briefly) enacted in real life.

Teixeira remembers her American co-star Hale saying she had “asked when she was going to get any gun training because she was going to be playing a cop. And we were like, the most lethal weapon you hold is like a torch or something”.

Korean TV drama and films such as Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar winning Parasite were a big influence on Ragdoll with their striking combination of black comedy and shock-ng violence. Teixeira says she “watched Old Boy four times as I was working on this, drawing a lot from that gruesome Korean cinema”.

Executive produced and commissioned with AMC in the US, it is a drama that fits squarely into the Alibi brand proposition, says Collie Cousins.

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“For Alibi crime drama originals what I want people to feel is a sense of comfort that they will enjoy the show, and also knowledge that maybe it might be a bit more progressive and move the genre on. It will be properly modern,” she says.

“It’s a brand that you can rely on to offer something that stimulates you and entertains you rather than you’ll see the same thing every time. I think people went through that barrier in lockdown; they tried all their normal fixes and went oh, okay, I need to watch something else. They moved on.”

And what chance a second series? “In my mind it’s always to do a returning series, I think that’s something Freddy and I would very much like to do. Obviously it’s over to the audience now to enjoy it and to love it and bring it back.”

Ragdoll begins on Alibi on 6 December


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