Line of Duty (Seasons 1 & 2): police drama based on an Anti-Corruption unit and their internal affair investigations on potentially crooked coppers. The show’s biggest strength is that the main focus of each season is a very ambiguous character that looks clean and innocent, but makes some morally dubious choices – some of which are understandable – meaning that every viewer will see them differently depending on their individual moral compass. It also helps that the core characters are well-acted and for the most part, given backstory and more depth. There’s more shocks and violence than you’d expect from a Big British Castle (BBC) program – which helps to ratchet up the drama. It’s also well shot, with strong docu/realistic camerawork and a slightly gritty finish to emphasise urgency and drama. What I don’t understand is that it spends 5-6 hours setting up a complex, engaging, and constantly evolving crime scenario – only to completely fuck up the ending in both seasons: one is barely explained; the other is told only through flashbacks; and both times nothing really changes, the team don’t actually figure anything out, and it’s topped with cheesy follow-up post credit titles showing the fate of each main character (even though it’s fiction, and not true crime). For the most part Line of Duty is a slick, tense, and absorbing police procedural show; and if closure doesn’t bother you, you’ll like it even more.
Season 1 – Score: 7/10
Season 2 – Score: 8/10
The Night Manager: a hotel manager is recruited by the British Gov to infiltrate a ruthless arms dealer’s inner circle. I can’t remember the last time the BBC threw this much money, stars, and talent at one project. Yet for such an accomplished cast, it felt like a faux pas to cast the leading lady as a relatively unknown; she struggles to keep up with the big and entertaining performances of villainous Roper (Laurie), heroic Pine (Hiddleston), and vivacious Corky (Hollander). Style-wise, this feels like a very expensive pitch for Loki to become 007: he even has the audacity to order a Vodka Martini in the final episode (WTF M8!?!) It’s all a bit ‘classic Flemming’, boasting the hallmarks of an old-school Bond film; from the decadent credits through to stellar production values and globe-trotting espionage. The disappointment is that it only dips a toe in the Bond waters: the plot’s far-fetched, but not too daft; the villain is dastardly, but not a megalomaniac; the hero is sufficiently heroic, but not an espionage badass… At six episodes, the setup, ending, and central plot of infiltrating an arm’s dealer feel rushed – sacrificing your belief in the story for as much drama, murder, action and boobs that the run-time will allow. The ending also feels quite spineless – turning its back on the pulpy / hardboiled vibe that the story built and opting for a happy, wide-open-for-a-sequel finale. Overall, The Night Manager looks fantastic, and is completely watchable… because it’s actually more of a saucy and sensational spy romp, than the classy espionage thriller it’s presented as.
Hunted (Season 1): 1 year after a botched murder attempt secret agent Alex Kent must find out who betrayed her, whilst carrying out a new mission for her private contract company. The production values on this are through the roof – it always looks more like a film than TV series (Going for the Luther / HBO vibe). A few characters stand out as good, including the botoxed lead Melissa George, but the rest are all definitely TV standard. The writing’s solid, with the current mission dramatically unfolding, as well as several well-connected revenge storylines weave through the central drama. As the season progresses and the plot thickens the show really grabs you – but – like with almost every modern TV show the greedy prospect of a second season made the writers go for a disappointingly limp finale that fails to conclude the bigger mysteries in the story, and (more annoyingly) raises even more last-minute questions. It’s a sour ending to what’s otherwise a top spy/thriller/espionage thriller show.
Luther: Every few years the BBC green lights a show which reaffirms my believe that at least a tiny fraction of my extortive TV licence is being spent wisely. This 6-episode series follows re-instated maverick cop John Luther as he works through several high-profile cases. The show doesn’t bring anything new to the ‘cop/crime drama’ genre, but raises the bar tremendously with its fantastic – and unusually professional – style & feel. The score’s also very complementary, and does a great job of heightening drama and suspense. Every main turns in a decent performance, particularly Idris Elba, who has no easy task playing the on-edge Holmesian officer; if The Wire hadn’t put him on the map, this will. Rising star Ruth Wilson gives a great portrayal of a quirky sociopathic genius. The other villains are just as chilling, and generally realistic: from the gunman and taxi driver to the more outlandish Satanist. The best aspect of Luther is that its genuinely gripping, especially the finale, which is tension on a scale that you rarely see; heart pounding and seat grabbing. My only real complaint was that it was far too short although the cliffhanger ending leaves a second series wide open. Luther is a great fusion of police action and personal drama. Thoroughly compelling and enjoyable TV, a must see.