As an unhealthily-devoted television watcher, my sphere of interest does not normally extend to police procedural drama series – still less those of the currently-fashionable, high-class, Danish and Scandinavian origin. In that sense, I happily bow to my superiors who contribute to the National Rust on these and other complex and gritty creative items.
Nevertheless, on a recent whim prompted by favourable critical reviews, I took the opportunity to dip into two British examples – the brand new Danny Boyle-produced & directed Babylon, starring James Nesbitt and Brit Marling, and the second series of Line of Duty (I had not seen the first, transmitted in 2012), produced & written by Jed Mercurio, starring Keeley Hawkes as DI Lindsay Denton.
My personal homespun quality test is the extent to which a new show engages me and sadly, whilst I was willingly ‘there to be taken’, Babylon never quite did it for me.
Its set-up was unconvincing – a serial killer on the loose, committing murders in real-time whilst the police authorities and their PR departments struggled to appear in control in the unflattering glare of the media and public gaze.
The quest to insert comedy into the story was somewhat clunky – some of the police-procedural office scenes contained strong echoes of Ricky Gervais’s The Office, without being as funny.
As I understand it, this episode of Babylon recently shown was a forerunner of a series to come later this year. Maybe it will grow on me.
In advance of using ‘Catch Up TV’ to watch the first episode, I was on guard for one or more substantial plot-twists because several critical reviews had mentioned they would not discuss them lest this spoiled things for uninitiated viewers.
Despite this, the turn of events that occurred about half an hour in, when the excellent lead actress Keeley Hawkes, as DI Denton, the low-key heroine who appears to have been set-up by her corrupt superiors, popped around to knock on the door of her neighbouring flat one evening, shook this viewer out of all his bland assumptions and complacency at a stroke.
Having ostensibly gone merely to request that a stereo be turned down, as soon as the female neighbour opened the door, without any warning Hawkes/Denton knocked her unconscious with the swing of a full wine bottle, left her lying on the walkway and calmly strolled back home to bed.
The event had me metaphorically sit up in bed with a start, as no doubt the author had intended.
I’ve now watched the first three episodes and there is no diminution of quality or interest.
It seems to me that Line of Duty works so well because Jed Mercurio has nailed the three eternally-key factors of drama production.
Firstly, his characters are both well-rounded (three-dimensional, if you like) and none of them stereotypical, which means that the viewer cannot help but be drawn in and want to see what happens to them.
Secondly, the complexities of the main story – and indeed the little sub-plots that nudge it off the straight and narrow – are such that any viewer preconceptions and expectations are constantly being challenged.
Thirdly, and finally, the quality of the acting performances is consistently top-drawer.
See here for a piece on Line of Duty that appears today on the website of THE GUARDIAN