Television: Move on, there's nothing to see

Bobbies or pigs, the police can rest easy. Nicholas Barber finds that 'The Cops' are comfortingly human

What are we to make of that title, then? The Cops? Cops is a word which is never actually uttered in the programme, so are we meant to assume that it's ironic? Is it a playful comment on the distance between this new drama series' dirty Northern naturalism and the flashness of an American shoot-'em-up show in which gangsters shout, "It's the cops," in every episode, usually just as a squad car is skidding through a stack of cardboard boxes? Or were BBC2 just afraid to use either of the synonyms which we do keep hearing in the programme: Bobbies, as the officers call themselves, and Pigs, as they're called by their public?

If the hype were to be believed, The Pigs is the title the series deserved. And by goodness, what a lot of hype there's been. There were trailers so long that they counted as programmes in their own right, even down to having their own slots in the Radio Times' listings. There were stories that the Bolton police who advised on the series had disassociated themselves from the finished product. And almost all of this publicity focused on the suggestion that the series is playing the old bad cop/bad cop routine. It isn't.

Anyone who believes that The Cops will bring down the real police in the public's estimation has been talking to a very small, select portion of the public. Yes, in the first episode we see two officers taking drugs: one in the sense that she puts cocaine up her nose, the other in the sense that he takes amphetamine off a passing dealer, then plants it on someone whose nose he wants an excuse to break. But, really, which viewer is going to be shocked by that, other than those whose TVs have been on the blink since Dixon of Dock Green was last broadcast? A programme which implied that nobody in the police ever went near illegal substances or illegal procedures - now that would be radical. Whereas The Cops' slant hasn't been radical since The Sweeney blackened the name of the boys in blue. All that's altered over the decades is that TV police are now partial to C as well as W, or Charlie as well as Whiskey, as they say on their radios.

The main consequence of these characters' flaws is to make the police seem comfortingly human. While staying just on the right side of boring, The Cops depicts their work as a grim slog, punctuated more often by the tap-tap of reports being typed than the wailing of sirens. There was a dead body in the first episode, but there was never much doubt that natural causes were responsible. I kept being reminded of Ben Elton's The Thin Blue Line. Maybe they should have gone with The Bobbies.

The resolutely uncool, unstylish, un-handsome officers drive around the fictional town of Stanton, near Manchester - a boldly believable wasteland of squalid council estates - keeping an eye out for petty criminals to intimidate. They scoff sandwiches, they tell bad jokes, they worry about their careers and about how they're perceived by their civilian friends and relatives.

The style is, very effectively, docusoap: actors stumble over words, there is no incidental music and, of course, the cameramen operate the focus and zoom controls while wearing boxing gloves. It's ironic that Driving School, which put the docusoap genre into gear, was remarkable because it scrupulously avoided these home-video visuals.

For a series that purports to tell it like it is, however, The Cops is not without its caricatures - a factor which, I suppose, makes it even more like a docusoap, if not necessarily more like real life. Most obviously guilty as charged are the forensics clown who chats up a probationary policewoman while he takes Polaroids of a putrid corpse ("Talking about piccies, do you ever go to the cinema?"), and the Chief Inspector who's been to more management courses than crime scenes. He tells his new sergeant that he's "looking to re-engineer the job, adopt a more client-responsive, intelligence-led, proactive approach". This line could feasibly have been delivered in such a way that we could have taken it seriously, but Mark Chatterton bases his characterisation on Rory Bremner's caring-sharing Blair impersonation, and to underline the gag there's a photo on the office wall of the Chief Inspector shaking hands with Tony. Unsurprisingly, the opposite pole is represented, too. Roy (John Henshaw) is an embittered old Prescott lookalike "wi' balls", who would hand in his badge before he would say "clients". He prefers the expression "dirty, thieving, lying scumbags".

Again, this theme has been handled similarly before. Just recently, tried- and-tested crime fighting has tussled with Blairite bureaucracy in Maisie Raine; and in Liverpool One a high-flier from the Met moved "oop North", where she learnt that they do things differently round those parts. The Cops is more promising than both of these series, but as long as police dramas are pumped out at the current pace, none of them will have the chance to stand out from the ranks.

The Cops, despite being exceedingly well-fashioned, and having fine ensemble acting, is not a televisual landmark. Just a few hours before the first episode was broadcast, as Blue Peter was about to start, I watched Lorraine Heggessey, the head of children's BBC, announce that one of the programme's presenters had been sacked for having "taken an illegal drug". And we're supposed to get worked up about a policewoman on coke? It just doesn't compete.

Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star