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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
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.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism