TV preview: Line of duty| Veep| Alan Partidge: Welcome to the places of my life | Walking and talking
BY PAUL WHITELAW
AS the Leveson inquiry cheerfully reminds us daily, the twin bulwarks of wealth and power can lead to corruption on a mind-boggling scale.
So it’s little wonder that, in these paranoid and cynical times, we end up with paranoid and cynical dramas such as LINE OF DUTY, which plays upon topical concerns about police mismanagement.
A dark, sardonic, propulsive thing, it stars Lennie James as DCI Gates, a charismatic copper who may or may not be guilty of boosting his “big, sexy” crime unit’s success rate by massaging the figures. A recent incumbent of Officer of the Year, he’s outwardly a paragon of professional virtue and traditional family values. And yet he’s gradually revealed as a more ambiguous figure, not least through his affair with a company director (Gina McKee) who, in a pivotal moment, begs him to cover up for her following a fatal car accident.
Convinced that Gates’ figures are too good to be true, a dogged anti-corruption officer (Adrian Dunbar) recruits a principled young DS (Martin Compston) to investigate his unit, which includes Neil Morrissey playing against cuddly type as a seasoned old plod, and This Is England’s Vicky McClure as an ambitious DC.
With an impressive cast like that, Line Of Duty practically screams – or rather, solemnly intones – prestige, and despite recurring flashes of clunky exposition and questionable melodrama, it comfortably lives up to its billing. As well as being a compelling, twist-strewn thriller, it also asks valid questions about the box-ticking pitfalls of modern policing methods, and the impact they have on society at large.
My only major bugbear is its crude depiction of disadvantaged council estate residents as vandals, drug-dealers and moronic rubberneckers. One of the greatest strengths of The Wire – which this superficially recalls – was its multifaceted characterisation of those on both sides of the law. Line Of Duty, while presenting its police officers as morally complex, dismisses the underclass as a kind of feral “other”. It’s an unfortunate misstep in an otherwise solid production.
One of the recent stars of the Leveson inquiry was Steve Coogan, whose commendable campaign against Murdoch’s tabloid tyranny has been fatally compromised by his decision to work for Sky. It’s either one of the most blatant acts of hypocrisy I’ve ever seen, or the world’s most eccentric attempt to subvert from within. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m awfully fond of principles.
Fortunately, it doesn’t quite taint ALAN PARTRIDGE: WELCOME TO THE PLACES OF MY LIFE, simply because it’s a supremely funny one-off special in which Coogan confirms his renewed mastery of one British comedy’s greatest creations.
Kicking off Sky’s new Monday night comedy schedule, it follows the embittered broadcaster on a typically banal odyssey through his beloved East Anglia, including visits to his North Norfolk Digital workplace, Norwich Town Hall, the local swimming baths – his butterfly crawl is hysterical – and a field full of sheep where, often for up to 45 minutes, he likes to imagine them as people who’ve wronged him in the past.
Presented within Alan’s fictional universe as a self-financed vanity project, it’s packed with the great lines and attention to detail we’ve come to expect from this character at his best. You know you’re on safe ground with a fake documentary where even the credits, captions and graphics are jokes in themselves. And Coogan’s performance is impeccable throughout.
But whereas Alan receiving an on-screen credit for everything is a deliberate gag, I doubt the same is true of his co-creator Armando Iannucci’s similar ubiquity in the credits for VEEP. Unfortunately, his preposterous credit overload – he even supplied the carpeting?! – is the funniest thing about his American offshoot from The Thick Of It.
In opting for a lighter, more screwball tone than its British counterpart, this sitcom set in the offices of a fictional US Vice President (“Veep” for short) feels like a watered-down facsimile.
Despite being controlled by Iannucci and his TTOI writers, it’s curiously lacking in bite. The dialogue and plotting are pedestrian, and while the cast, including Seinfeld’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the central role, are fine, their characters aren’t especially interesting, being little more than sniping vessels for the bland overall message that politicians are self-serving and incompetent. The Thick Of It actually has something meaningful to say about British politics, whereas Veep feels like an outsider’s view of an alien landscape they regard with mere amusement.
I’m a huge fan of Iannucci, so I was more than willing to give Veep the benefit of the doubt. But after watching three episodes during which I barely smiled, I can’t help but dismiss it as a failure.
Finally, Kathy Burke’s WALKING AND TALKING is a charming semi-autobiographical comedy which adroitly captures the certainty and confusion of adolescence. Set in 1979, it follows an ambling conversation between two teenage friends on their way home from school, occasionally interrupted by cameos from Burke herself as a belligerent nun, and cult comedian Jerry Sadowitz as – surely not? – a ranting Glaswegian lunatic. It’s a slight yet gently amusing affair.
LINE OF DUTY
Tuesday, BBC2, 9pm
ALAN PARTRIDGE: WELCOME TO THE PLACES OF MY LIFE
Monday, Sky Atlantic, 9pm
Monday, Sky Atlantic, 10pm
WALKING AND TALKING
Monday, Sky Atlantic, 10:30pm
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