WARNING: Spoilers Ahoy
When TV Drama Bibles and pilot episodes come into Bang2write, I get a distinct lack of cops and docs, drama’s all-time staples. In fact, I would venture I get anything but. Yet why is this? Time has shown, over and over again, that “cops and docs” are favourites – and for this very reason, a new angle on this would surely be welcome on any commissioner’s table? If we look at the evidence CSI-style, we can see that cops and docs have any number of variations that people are willing (or have been willing) to watch. Here are three of the best that spring immediately to my mind when I think of recent UK cop drama:
LOGLINE: An abrasively eccentric forensic psychologist aids in the solving of difficult police cases.
Probably the “big daddy” of all “cool” cop drama, this series established Robbie Coltrane as an actor to be taken seriously after spending most of the eighties in comedy terrain with the likes of Rik Myall and Ade Edmondson (and a move both of these comedians too would emulate, with Mayall largely more successful than Edmondson IMHO). The crucial difference between Cracker and other police drama was this was far from being an ensemble: this was largely about Fitz first and foremost and he was the breath of fresh air we needed. This was not a good guy; he had questionable motivations at the best of times and an ego the size of the world. Even when his wife confesses that she has cheated on him, he humiliates her the best way he knows how – by psychoanalysing her and why she might have done it. For a cop drama, Fitz was not actually a cop, he worked with the cops and this made all the difference; not least because he disrespected police procedure and indeed the police force on a regular basis, but because it meant he was also a lecturer at the local university, bringing a number of other civilians into the fray. Cracker made its mark by tackling tough subject matter including The Hillsborough Disaster (probably its most famous storyline, launching both Robert Carlyle and Christopher Eccleston as other acting forces to be reckoned with), rape (in a non-annoying way I might add) and mental health (including Fitz’s). Cracker ended when Fitz emigrated to Australia in order to reconcile with his estranged wife and the baby she had that may or may not have been his.
Cracker had a one-off episode that I awaited eagerly about two years ago only to be bitterly disappointed by it. Perhaps what had made it great in the early nineties was its devil-may-care style was new and impressive, or perhaps I had enjoyed the original far more because I was in my early teens? I don’t think so… The new episode was just not as good I thought.
Kenn Stott appears to have made a living out of acting world-weary policemen: we are currently watching him in Rebus on ITV1 and just a few years ago caught him as Red in the gloriously gruesome Messiah on BBC (one of its search labels on IMDB is “severed tongue”!). It was however his first incarnation as Inspector Chappell that I like the best.
The Vice was particularly good at representing the dark side of life but unlike Messiah, did not indulge in the downright gratuitious; it understood absolutely the principal of “what you don’t see is far worse“. Similarly, character motivation was explored to the full. Like Grissom in CSI, Chappell is a loner and obsessed with his work; like Horatio in CSI: Miami, Chappell was a knight in shining armour as he rescued hundreds of young girls, women and boys from the sex trade, week on week, but in comparsion to Horatio Chappell was much more rounded, with a far deeper, darker side that was not “caped crusader” in any way. Highlights of the series for me included an appearance by the legendary Tim Mcinnery (again an actor more famous at the time for comedy, most notably Blackadder) as a child pornographer and of course The Vice is responsible for launching the career of the fabulous Marc Warren as the infamous Dougie, the bent vice copper.
In short, The Vice was deadly serious and had little time for clever quips like Cracker. This did not mean it was a complete downer however, just good, solid crime drama with bucketloads of tension. What was new about it was it was not so much a “whodunnit” – there were *generally* no bodies, no forensic evidence etc, but a lot of the time it was a race against time. Jeopardy was fantastic. “Figure out where this girl is before she disappears into the sex trade forever” is a great hook and kept audiences returning, week on week out.
LOGLINE: The missions of MI5, the UK’s intelligence organisation.
I think I’m right in saying Spooks was Kudos’ first flagship drama and prepared the ground for what was to come in such other celebrated series as Life on Mars and Hustle. It originated with Helen Smith’s favourite leading man Matthew MacFadyen in the protagonist’s role now occupied by Rupert Penry-Jones as Adam Carter, the man who defected from MI6 to 5 – something 6 will never forgive him for.
Matthew Macfadyen was written out somewhere around the second or third series; this may have been the plan all along as various movie offers like Pride and Prejudice came in and whilst I am a fan of Macfadyen in general, I didn’t like his character Tom as much as I like Adam. Tom was a loner (what else?) but wanted a family and so tried desperately to settle down whilst having one of the most dangerous and not to mention secret, jobs you could possibly have. This was a nice spin but ultimately was not that exciting – his girlfriends could never really take a starring role since they weren’t in MI5, so when they were put in danger (the most prominent being one that was locked inside an MI5 safe house with her child and it’s about to blow up), I could never really empathise and secretly wanted them to die. Of course they never did, since Tom would always rescue them and then said girlfriend would leave him. Similarly there were a number of questionable storylines that I thought were there for sensationalism’s sake (most notably Lisa Faulker’s head in the deep fat fryer) and without hardcore characterisation to back this sort of carry-on up, it all fell a little flat for me.
However it was enjoyable nonetheless and I carried on watching… I’m glad I did too, since it all changed when Adam Carter turned up. He played alongside Macfadyen’s character for some time until Macfadyen became a security risk and went on the run (as you do). Adam was then the “main man” of the series and what a main man he is. Originally a family man, deeply in love with his wife, dedicated to his child, he was destroyed when not only was his wife shot in front of him by her ex-husband, a Syrian terrorist; he was then shot in the chest by none other than Lindsay Duncan, also a terrorist, when on another mission. His loyalties are horribly tied – he loves his job yet hates it ‘cos of his wife’s death; he loves his son, but worries he will be left an orphan if Adam also dies on the job. This led to him too becoming a secuirty risk to MI5 but I must have missed an episode somewhere ‘cos they appear to have rehabilitated him for this current series.
Like all cops (or their equivalents) Adam is obsessed with his work but is desperately lonely, seeking to replace his dead wife. He has gone from being entirely monogamous to extremely promiscuous and has even started to make dangerous decisions about the women he becomes involved with. We saw this only this week when the treacherous Ana tried to murder him, first by giving him a disabling drug then dumping him in a bathtub full of water. Nasty. A little convoluted though, why not shoot him in the head? But hey ho.
Any favourites of yours to add? What makes a good cop drama as far as you are concerned? Over to you…