Thursday, 21 June 2012

Television Reviews: 22 June

Michael Moran finds that only a few TV cops can save us from boredom

Written by Michael Moran
Michael-Moran1There really is no shortage of cop shows. Apart from Sky Sports, practically every channel offers its own would-be Morse or Prime Suspect at around 9pm once a week. And I bet even Sky Sports is trying to work out how it can shoehorn a footballing gumshoe into the schedule.

Most of the current crop of detective dramas represents a perfectly agreeable way to waste an hour. They all have a certain form in common, but there's something comforting about that. When the template is used well, as for example it has recently been in Scott & Bailey, the results can be excellent television.

Once in a while though comes a show that ignores the standard cops and robbers template altogether and becomes something other than 'just another detective drama'. The Wire and The Killing are recent examples of that really special kind of telly. It's a mild annoyance that neither of those dinner-party conversation staples are home-grown entertainments.

Which is why I'm particularly pleased to tell you about a new British contender for the 'Premier League Detective Drama' title. Line Of Duty (26 June, BBC Two at 9pm) starts where most other cop shows end, with armed police closing on a suspect. That's where we meet Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), who I suppose we might call the hero of the piece. But where Line Of Duty excels, is in the avoidance of easy labels such as hero and villain.

It's set in a (fictional) police anti-corruption unit called AC-12. Charismatic supercop Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates (Lennie James) is on their radar because his results are that little bit too good. He has absorbed the target driven, resource-poor culture of modern policing and is finessing the game to his advantage. But is he crossing the line?

Gates has other problems too, that for now AC-12 doesn't know about, such as his involvement with a high-flying businesswoman called Jackie Laverty, played by Gina McKee. How far he will go to preserve his neat, well-rewarded but dangerously fragile status quo? That's what we're going to find out over five episodes.

It's a rarely-explored side of policing. You may recall Between The Lines, starring the always watchable Neil Pearson, from the early 1990s but apart from that you will search in vain for a British Serpico. Further, Line Of Duty captures that very modern 'health and safety' culture that our police officers have to negotiate, with risk assessments being signed off before every shootout.

It has terrific strength-in-depth casting (apart from Compston, James and McKee, there's Adrian Dunbar as AC-12's puritanical boss and a surprisingly small role for Neil Morrissey). It has rich, complex characters. And best of all it has a twisty, unpredictable script. Line Of Duty will have to do something very silly later in its run not to be the best cop show of the year.

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