Van der Valk, series 3, review: as ever, this cop show is hard to love

Marc Warren as Van der Valk
Marc Warren as Van der Valk - ITV

Changes are afoot in the new series of Van der Valk (ITV1). First of all, we get through this entire feature-length episode without once seeing Piet Van der Valk on his boat. But more importantly than that, there are two new additions to the team: rookie sergeants Citra Li (Django Chan-Reeves) and Eddie Suleman (Azan Ahmed). 

They are Young People, which means that one of them is vegan and the other talks about personal pronouns. On a stakeout, in between the standard grumbling about being hungry and wishing they had snacks, Li asks Suleman: “How do you identify: cis, non-binary, gender-fluid, LGBTQIA, or what?” 

Now, all this could be a send-up by the writer (Chris Murray, who is not a young person). But it’s hard to tell, because there has always been something a bit off about Van der Valk. Perhaps it’s the Amsterdam setting, which means most of the actors are pretending to be Dutch while maintaining their British accents, but some of the minor characters are either Europeans speaking slightly accented English, or British actors attempting to sound slightly European.

Marc Warren with (from left) Azan Ahmed, Django Chan-Reeves, Maimie Mccoy and Darrell D'Silva
Marc Warren with (from left) Azan Ahmed, Django Chan-Reeves, Maimie Mccoy and Darrell D'Silva - ITV

Whatever the reason, it’s a show that’s hard to love. The stories often portray subcultures in the most superficial way possible. This time, it’s free-running, which can look spectacular on screen – think of the opening to Casino Royale – but not on an ITV budget. The episode opened with the murder of a free-runner, shot through the windscreen as he drove along a road. What lets this series down every time is its plots, which are never very good. This one also featured the obligatory plot device of a young woman being kidnapped and tied up and made to scream a lot. 

The characterisation can be reduced to a couple of buzzwords per person: Van der Valk (Marc Warren) is curt and moody, forensic pathologist Hendrik (Darrell D’Silva) is charismatic and drunk. But, along with core cast member Lucienne (Maimie McCoy), they do gel as a team. As a viewer, you’re happy to spend time with them. 

Li and Suleman fit into this dynamic very well, despite Li’s character being the stock young female: whip-smart, passed her detective exam with flying colours, a match for any man, etc etc. Being in her 20s, she doesn’t just order a coffee in a bar but a “triple venti half-sweet non-fat caramel macchiato”. Suleman is more understated and immediately more likeable. 

They’re both decent replacements for Job Cloovers (Elliot Barnes-Worrell) and Brad de Vries (Luke Allen-Gale), popular characters from series one and two who have now disappeared. If the scripts and storylines improved, this could be a good show. But when you find yourself neither wondering nor caring about who committed the murder, it’s a bad sign.