This essay addresses the viability of a textually positioned spectator of television drama in specific reference to two returning crime drama series: Cracker (Granada, 1993-2006) and Prime Suspect (Granada, 1991-2006). After an initial consideration of the problems surrounding the theorization of the active viewer and the dichotomous spectator/social audience, it considers the contribution of work from scholars such as Murray Smith who have been using cognitive theoretical concepts in the service of textual exploration and analysis. The objective is not to counter or negate audience study but to find usable analytical tools for the textual analysis that must continue alongside ethnographic and social psychology approaches. In the latter half of the essay such concepts are deployed for the contemplation of both the return of two characters from the early 1990s (Jane Tennison from Prime Suspect and Fitz from Cracker), and the type of viewing engagement they may have inspired in viewers when they returned to British screens in 2006 after long periods out of production. I argue that Smith's unpacking of the notion of ‘identification’ and other analytical concepts can be extremely useful in exploring the range of subject positions offered by dramas such as these, although the temporal nature of returning series and the emotional history of popular characters does make ‘time’ a particularly pressing issue for research. The essay concludes with some preliminary reflection on the emotional and cognitive dimensions of series and serial temporality.