Line Of Duty
BBC1, Tuesday, 9pm
Sky Atlantic, Tuesday, 10pm
BBC1, Monday, 9.30pm
INSIDE Line Of Duty there’s been a big, slow-burning, multi-character, Scandinavian drama – or maybe an American one – struggling to get out. Allowed a mere five weeks, this never had the chance to properly show itself, and the captioned round-up of everyone’s fate made the ending seem rushed, though before that, Jed Mercurio’s corrupt polis saga had been fairly gripping. (I know, I know: “fairly gripping” is like “mildly apocalyptic”, ie technically impossible, but hopefully you get my drift).
Things I liked: Martin Compston not having to play a wee west of Scotland gadgie; Paul Higgins getting the chance to show there’s more to him than Glaswegian attack-dogs. Things I didn’t like: Compston’s Lahndan accent; the fact I was unable to stop fantasising about Higgins’ prissy, snivelling blancmange of a chief super being left alone in a room with Jamie Macdonald from The Thick of It. There was one other Scot in Line Of Duty, however, and he didn’t have to compromise anything. For four episodes he was only a voice on a succession of stolen phones, but what a voice (“Ya bent bastard!”). Who was it? Who was the heroin overlord whose hobbies were golf and chopping up women? There was fun to be had recalling great Caledonian psychos of yore and I’m pleased to say I guessed Brian McCardie a good bit before his curly heid loomed large.
The street-level drug-dealing on that grim estate was heavily influenced by the first series of The Wire, but if you’re going to steal, why not nick from the best? The Wire, though, had the scope for fully rounded portraits of life-in-a-supermarket-trolley down-and-outs; here there was just enough time before the closing credits for the revelation that “Dot” Cotton, the quiet one, had been working for the bad guys all along. Line Of Duty had got off to a flier with lots of Mercurio’s trademark black humour about polis cutbacks and box-ticking and I would have enjoyed more of that but, again, space probably didn’t allow.
The best thing about the drama, though – and it’ll be crucially missing from the just-commissioned second run so I can’t see how that’s going to pan out – was Lennie James as the smug, arrogant, self-seeking and ultimately tragic Tony Gates, whose problems stemmed from going private on his kids’ education then being unable to pay the fees. Truly, it’s the dilemma of our age.
Now, I love Aaron Sorkin, loved The West Wing, loved Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip just as much, and I’m really rooting for him to write the definitive show-within-a-show about TV production (apparently his first attempt, Sports Night, which wasn’t shown here, was great too). But I fear the new one, The Newsroom, isn’t going to be it.
Some have said it’s too speechy, too sentimental. Haven’t these people being paying attention? This is what Sorkin does. I don’t have a problem with that as long as Josiah Bartlett, President of the United States of an Idealised America, is doing the sentimentalising, or the rants about this dumbed-down age are coming from the late-night satire host in Studio 60. The latter paid homage to Paddy Chayefsky within the first two minutes; we had to wait a little longer for the great screenwriter’s namecheck in The Newsroom but it still came. Chayefsky, clearly idolised by Sorkin, wrote Network wherein news anchor Peter Finch roared: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” Jeff Daniels is the anchor here and last week – when asked by the exec producer to move his Blackberry out of shot – threw it at the screen.
Some have said it’s difficult to engage the sympathies of a general viewership in the plight of journalists. Well, I’m not looking for this to be the definitive depiction of modern journalism because I’m completely satisfied that the fifth series of The Wire was that. There’s nothing wrong with the subject matter but there’s quite a lot wrong with the central pairing of Daniels and Emily Mortimer as his boss. Matthew Perry and Sorkin regular Bradley Whitford were hugely charismatic in Studio 60; these two just aren’t. That said, no show which references Federico Fellini and Burgess Meredith in the same episode can be all bad. Amid the lecturing you learn stuff: during the First World War, VD hit 18,000 US troops every day. And it should be said: this is a thousand times better than The Hour.
In Absolutely Fabulous, Edina wailed: “There’s so much new stuff happening, I just can’t keep up.” She could have been talking about the comedy itself for this was a tired revival, proving yet again that John Cleese was right to institute a rule for sitcoms you could call the 12 Steps – two series of six then goodbye. «