TELEVISION: Mr & Mrs Murder

NEVER mind splitting the atom. Who can make a show that truly harnesses Shaun Micallef?

It's been promising to happen since he jabbed his smart brand of silliness into Full Frontal and The Micallef Programme.

The promise grew with Newstopia and the spontaneity of Your Generation, then faded a bit with the scripted Mad As Hell.

How do you get the most out of Micallef, who can have you in stitches with a raised eyebrow? Will he ever find that career-defining hit?

Mr & Mrs Murder, Ten's laconic new murder mystery, may not be that hit. But there are plenty of reasons to watch it.

Wednesday night's first episode introduced us to Charlie and Nicola Buchanan (Micallef, Kat Stewart), a husband and wife team of "trauma cleaners" who mop up crime scenes. They have a knack for solving murders.

If that all sounds grisly, it's not. The blood is more alluded to than shown. And if the murder case of the week sounds like well-trodden terrain, Micallef and Stewart spend most of each episode plucking playfully at the strands of the detective genre.

"I'm sorry for your loss," Charlie tells a widow in next week's second episode, before stopping himself.

"It's a particularly empty expression and I apologise for using it."

There's a lot of Micallef in Charlie; that clipped, friendly way of a barrister on his third glass of red at a party you want to be at, and anyone who watched Newstopia knows that these two crackle on screen. The breezy Buchanans are an antidote to the hardened, jaded sleuths we've come to expect.

Nicola has a penchant for hugging crime victims and suspects, even if they're not on board, and can conjure what Charlie calls her "Harriet the Spy" face.

With a convincing, likeable couple at its heart and a menagerie of guest stars like Vince Colosimo, Merick Watts, Alison Bell and Kate Ritchie, Mr & Mrs Murder is still at its best during the bursts of Micallef.

There are some sublime moments. Does it get better than Shaun Micallef trying to reason with a barking Rottweiler in German? Probably not.

Mr & Mrs Murder airs 8.30pm Wednesday on Ten.

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