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TV review: Line of Duty starring Lennie James
Lennie James in Line of Duty. Image: BBC
This immersive new police drama by Cardiac Arrest writer Jed Mercurio succeeds in showing the darker side of modern police methods, but stops short of being truly hard-hitting.
It has to be Detective Anthony Gates taking down a knife wielding mugger with some impressive jujitsu moves. He might be a flawed police officer, but he'd make an excellent ninja.
The dodgy pub banter scene, where the TC-20 squad behaved like they'd never seen or spoken to a woman before. "I bought you two halves instead of a pint"- oh come on.
Line of Duty certainly hit the ground running. The explosive opening saw a squad of officers storm a London flat and shoot a prospective terrorist in the head while he was holding his baby. You never got that sort of thing on The Bill.
Unfortunately, it was the wrong flat - and the wrong man. A bold and dramatic way to highlight the fact that we were watching a drama about the bungled policing of today: of mistaken identities, kettling, riots and red tape, where old men who just 'want something done' about a burglary are offered tea, empathised with and then shown the door.
"Line of Duty certainly hit the ground running"
These days, the heavily politicised crime rates are what matters, with forces under pressure to deliver even if it means cooking the books by recategorising some crimes and burying others.
The reason we know this is because early in the episode peripheral characters repeatedly bludgeoned us over the head with phrases like 'divisional commanders are on notice to reduce knife crime' and 'we pursue two out of every three cases and down-process anything that won't quickly lead to an offender.'
This was clearly vital to our understanding of the programme as a whole, but surely we could have been trusted to work it out for ourselves?
In fact, writer Jed Mercurio could have saved us the trouble of thinking at all by replacing the title sequence with a Star Wars style rolling message:
"It was a period of civil unrest. Urban rioters in Banksy T-shirts, operating from flats near the M25, were throwing bricks through the windows of Fortnum and Mason. The only people who could stop them were the police but due to cutbacks, they couldn't afford to. Instead they just filled in risk assessments and investigated each other for corruption."
A shame really because character development, for example, ended up taking a bit of a back seat to the overwhelming 'modern policing is flawed' message.
DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) is a case in point. Being an undercover cop isn't easy, still less if you're actually investigating one of your own, but nevertheless she seemed a bit flat.
So did goody-two-shoes Steve Arnott (Martin Compston), who scuppered his anti terrorism career by refusing to testify that the man his team shot accidentally had been 'acting threateningly' (he hadn't), leading to an unglamorous posting to the anti-corruption squad.
As it stands, the sole truly three-dimensional character is top detective Tony Gates (a superb Lennie James). He's under investigation by Arnott and his boss Hastings (Adrian Dunbar) for 'laddering': choosing easy cases and multiplying charges.
Apparently this sort of thing is very good for your department's stats, provided you don't get caught.
"It'll certainly be interesting to watch the investigation"
What Arnott, Fleming and Hastings don't yet know is that it's far worse than that.
Gates is actually helping his mistress cover up a hit and run incident. She initially claimed she ran over a dog while drunk, but Gates later discovered it was actually her accountant. Easy mistake to make.
It'll certainly be interesting to watch the investigation - and Gates himself - unfold. He's a pretty ambiguous figure, though even that ambiguity is drawn in fairly broad brush strokes:
"He's bad because he's cheating on his wife and helping his mistress cover up a murder!"
"NO, he's good- he stopped two hoodlums robbing a baby." Etc.
That really does sum up Line of Duty. It was compelling, but not subtle. Cynical, but not particularly edgy. If you turned in expecting a deeply gritty and dark expose of modern policing, this wasn't quite it. In fact it seemed to have more in common with Police Academy than The Wire at times: particularly Gates' flirting with chunky office assistant Rita in order to get access to crucial information.
But it was engaging and watchable, which is of course the main thing. It can't be easy to produce something original in such an oversaturated genre, but Line of Duty did feel quite refreshing.
Verdict: Certainly one to investigate further
TV quotes of the week - Line of Duty
"I've been kicked, punched and spat on but, my social life aside..." - A sense of humour always helps when you're a cop.
"TC-20's been nicknamed the Big Sexy Crime Unit." - It doesn't quite roll off the tongue though, does it?
"I didn't know AC-12 used undercover officers." - That's let the cat out of the bag.
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