21 April 2016

Why You Should Be Watching... Line of Duty

Words by Tom Newsom

  • It’s not your usual police show. It’s more of a police procedural, only the investigation is against a police officer, with the team trying to outsmart them and prove that they are corrupt. Psychological mystery meets action thriller, you could say, only a lot of it is set in an office. In the first series, this meant one of the team going undercover to see what his colleagues thought of him, trying to uncover and prove the dodgy dealings and secrets, but doing it by the book. For all its chases, stunts and action standoffs, some of its most effective, thrilling scenes are the interview scenes - simply two or three officers against the person (plus their solicitor), but these are lengthy scenes, sometimes up to ten to fifteen minutes, full of verbal sparring and bending of the truth.
  • It’s realistic - sort of. These now famous interview scenes are full of realistic touches. Evidence is always in the form of numbered documents, movements are noted ‘for the tape’, arcane legal jargon is spouted, and quite often the phrase “I request the right to be interviewed by an officer at least one rank superior”. It sounds fussy, much of it is underplayed. Often this means people will jump in and target certain points to say that the show is not realistic, and that some scenes would definitely not happen in a real life investigation. So why have these touches at all - as verisimilitude, for the sake of it? Well, it’s certainly trying to be realistic, as a medical drama would be, say. At the time of the first series they couldn’t get the police to advise on the series, presumably as a show that investigated corrupt police officers would put them in a bad light either way - so they had to find other ways around it. In terms of the world that the show creates, it is meant to feel ordered, solid, realistic. Besides, anybody who disagrees with it because it doesn’t represent the real world should be pointed to a big glowing sign saying that this is TV, live with it.
  • It’s a hit. We’re now up to the third series. The last series hit the headlines, the first run in 2012 broke ratings records for the channel. It hit the ground running, and for good reason - the style of the show hasn’t changed since, keeping the same assured tone.
  • It’s not about the main characters. It’s worth comparing to that other big hit thriller of late, Happy Valley, because the two are doing very different things. That show is more of a personal journey with its characters, where the highlights are the achingly true dramatic moments, even when there’s a crime committed. Line of Duty is doing the opposite - there’s not even a central character or hero, and the private lives of the team that occur throughout the series barely get a look in. Even though they’re not the most interesting thing about it, they are great creations, much of this being down to the regular actors breathing life into every scene. Away from them, the series is built around a change in guest cast as they tackle each case each series - top actors coming in to give it their all. But even they’re at mercy to the fast moving, fast adjusting plot.
  • There’s a lot to catch up with. What appears to be self contained series, throwing out the plot each season for a new one, has turned it something more ongoing. So the question of jumping in fresh at Series 3 - it’s tricky, if not impossible, and there are moments that you will miss out on (also the first episode is soon to run out on iPlayer before the series ends). It’s a funny point, because most episodes makes you feel like you’ve missed something, even if you have seen every minute. After the long opening recaps (like The Killing had), that’s it - they may refer to characters and plots from previous episodes that you hardly noticed, or even the previous series, an impressive two years on if you watch it live - a feat of memory. Based around a series where nobody quite knows the full picture anyway, you can forgive the general lack of exposition!
  • It’s big, bold storytelling. It’s all about the investigation and the all important twists. And unlike some TV shows, here the twists actually change the entire show from episode to episode. It all feels very solid, even when you can’t quite make sense of it - there’s no cheating, nothing too overblown either. That’s part of what makes it so great to watch weekly, is the way it rug-pulls almost every episode and casts everything in a new light, in only a few scenes or gestures. Each episode is made very tense through editing and music, and there’s been some huge cliffhangers, making them a ‘must see’ every week. It’s the way forward, or perhaps a throwback - a boldness of storytelling that is matched by a level of research and detail and thought. It is TV with a kick up the arse.

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