review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
For viewers who like their drama to be lit by a flashing blue light, Thursday is very heaven. From 8pm, when Carlton kicks off proceedings with its uniformed soap, The Bill, through to 11pm, when Channel 4 winds up NYPD Blue, they can wallow happily in a world of yipping sirens and screaming tyres. Most of this, it's true, is courtesy of Carlton's wonderful dedication to scheduling innovation. The Bill is followed immediately by Blues and Twos and, from this week, by Thief Takers (ITV), an Angry, Shouting Coppers show from the makers of The Sweeney.

Thief Takers would very much like to be NYPD Blue, opening with a similar, percussive title sequence - cast shots rapidly intercut with wonky urban settings. It also takes care to drop amphetamines into the cameramen's coffee, so that they fidget and dodge, obscuring the sightlines in a way that has become de rigueur for the modish police thriller. But no amount of fuzzy heads in the foreground will conceal that this is old-crop television, hastily repackaged for changing tastes. The make-up of the team is a little more politically correct, even if the individual officers aren't, with women and minorities serving alongside the standard-issue white males. There is also an attempt to make the characters a little more opaque in their manner - one officer (Reece Dinsdale) has recently lost a child, which allows for some weepy pillow-talk to set off against the interrogation-room hard-man - but it is all a little dutiful. The programme's pulse really only races when rubber is being burned and guns are being waved. The director, Colin Gregg, turns in some distinctive set-pieces, including an introductory jail-break heavy with menacing slow- motion, that running-through-syrup nightmare of imminent catastrophe, as well as a neatly telescoped account of the gutting of a security van. But there's only so much he can do with a plot of such obliging neatness - would you believe, for example, that one of our heroes just happens to be sleeping with the wife of the psychopath who leads the armoured- car heist?

Watching NYPD Blue (C4) afterwards, you have that sensation of emerging from a cinema in mid- afternoon: everything is suddenly brighter, more densely particular, more cluttered with meaningless detail. This is largely an effect of contrast - it soon becomes clear that NYPD Blue has its own synthetic arrangements - but even when everybody is catching their breath between action sequences, it is way ahead of Thief Takers, finding a proper dramatic equivalent for the stylistic device of obstructing your view.

After Martinez is shot, his colleagues find the wounded perpetrator hiding in a dumpster. Their first-aid is unusually robust, and the beating is only suspended by a flurry of warning looks, pointing out that there are witnesses on a balcony above. Nothing is said, but this rapid assemblage of glances - angry, curious, suddenly guilty - gives a certain moral density to the scene. Visiting the wounded officer in hospital, his partner reaches for the television remote, and then notes that it is broken - the dialogue doesn't have any symbolic import, but again it thickens the sense of reality. In Thief Takers, by contrast, a domestic scene of a security guard's family having breakfast has no independent vitality to it; it's simply there because it has a mechanical purpose within the plot. You might say that NYPD Blue leaves some surfaces dusty. It isn't spotless in its effects, like Thief Takers, but sifted with the irrelevant grit of everyday life.

Up to a point, anyway - last night's episode ended with a romantic interlude on what appeared to be the roof of Detective Simone's apartment, complete with a million-dollar view of the Manhattan skyline. If the programme is really in touch with reality, then I fear he must be on the take.

Comments