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"I'm not the first copper who's had a cuddle with the clientele am I?" asked an aggrieved Warren in Out of the Blue (BBC1). Perhaps not, but he may well be the first copper whose cuddle has been represented with quite such bare-cheeked candour. Last week, Warren went skin to skin with the daughter of a bondage freak, investigated after putting his dirty pictures through the local chemist. This week, his attempt to cut short this unwise bit of public liaison ended with the couple on the bonnet of a nearby car, giving the suspension a preliminary MOT.

Warren will come to regret this uncharacteristic adventure (he is the team's new man and thus philosophically opposed to the exploitation of vulnerable women), because no one in Out of the Blue is allowed to have a moderately contented private life. Indeed, at times it looks like an Angst Handicap Stakes. Leading by a neck is Bruce, whose father has absconded from hospital and is wandering the streets with a sledge-hammer and delusions of persecution. But he is being pressed very close by Marty (Marty Brazil, would you believe, which sounds more like a cruise entertainer than a grubby white-collar copper).

Marty and his wife are trying to adopt, a process not aided by his tendency to get drunk and fail to turn up for home visits from the social worker. (I think we are meant to sympathize with Marty, but what he does to the payphone after his wife hangs up on him suggests he may not yet be quite ready for the emotional hurricane involved in getting a a stubborn two- year-old to eat his breakfast.) Lew, the callow young detective with a sharp line in psychological Chinese burns, is lagging a little, having no specific immediate crisis - just an unspecified alcoholic melancholy (perhaps connected to the fact that one of his lovers recently killed herself).

It's frankly astonishing that these people can get out of bed in the morning, let alone solve the grim crimes they encounter (their police work mostly consists of goading stupid sad people into confessing to what they've done). But, despite the sense of a punctiliously applied formula, both in the plotting and camerawork, Out of the Blue is pretty watchable, offering relief from its own morose sensibility with regular touches of black comedy - "We are not being paid to stand around here listening to you feeding us your tripe and bollocks," Marty yells at an uncooperative witness, "Do we look like Richard and Judy?"

Without Homicide, which started a new series on Channel 4 last night, Out of the Blue would look and feel nothing like it does, though it is possible to have an argument about television genealogy here - is it, strictly speaking, part of the Blue family (love-child of NYPD Blue, out of Hill Street Blues) or does the line of paternity flow through Homicide? For my money, Barry Levinson's Baltimore-based series is the true originator, having best original claim to that fractured style of whip pans and mobile camerawork, as well as the trick of burying emotions inside tangential trivia. It is, to be honest, beginning to congeal into a cliche even as you watch - the set piece in which one detective had an intense conversation about a condemned man's request for Spaghettios was simply going through the motions.

The principal Homicide trope is seamless dialogue accompanied by conspicuously seamed visuals - welts in the editing which are intended to snag your eye: repetitious overlaps, jump cuts and clashing angles that hop the point-of-view round the room like an agitated flea. But here, too, the mannerism is underwritten by strong performances (Andre Braugher in particular, as the unloveable Frank Pembleton) and a sense of emotional realism. Unlike some of the police series that preceded them, Out of the Blue and Homicide allow for the fact that policemen, like most of us, only have their minds on the job for part of the time that they're meant to.