Babylon, Channel 4 - TV review: From patchy pilot to a force to be reckoned with

One of the most thrilling and original series on television

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Do you think the Met’s top brass watch Babylon (Channel 4)? They really should. Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong’s eerily prescient series contains more home truths than your average internal memo. It also has something to say about seemingly every major policing controversy of the past 20 years, all of which neatly converged in last night’s penultimate episode of the series.

Uniformed officer Clarkey (Cavan Clerkin) was irritated to find himself guarding a Black Friday-like furniture store sale. “I will not take bullet for a fucking mahogany bookcase,” he grumbled, echoing Finn’s oft-expressed fears about privatisation. Back at Scotland Yard, meanwhile, the combined ingenuity of the PR team was required to “sell” a missing child who didn’t happen to have blond hair or blue eyes.

As usual, the funniest and most dramatic scenes involved the Specialist Firearms Unit and Banjo (Andrew Brooke, I beg you return to PhoneShop). He and his team were so confident about the inquiry into the nightclub shooting that they took time out for some r&r beforehand, a paintballing scene that brought back some classic Peep Show memories. Rookie officer Robbie (Adam Deacon) was more nervous, and with good reason. It wasn’t long before the inquiry panel were rooting out inconsistencies in their testimonies. If only the IPCC’s investigations were this thorough in real life.

 

The opening for a new commissioner meant one last showdown between PR rivals Finn (Bertie Carvel) and Liz (Brit Marling) and a chance for both to play at kingmaker. The prospect of becoming the Met’s first black commissioner inspired a brilliantly scathing speech from Finn’s choice, Acting Commissioner Inglis (Paterson Joseph): “Do you know what this force was like 30 years ago? It wasn’t very friendly towards black people…” It was certainly more astute than Liz’s attempt to galvanise Assistant Commissioner Franklin (Nicola Walker) into become the first woman at the top: “I am fucking Mary Poppins, I was brought in to fix this thing that needs fixing.”

In the five episodes since its patchy pilot back in February, Babylon has happily transformed into one of the most thrilling and original series on television. Now the only potential impediment to total triumph is Liz Garvey and just how teeth-grindingly irritating she is in every scene in which she appears. This effect is at least mitigated when other characters knock her down a peg. Just as this speech began its cringe crescendo, for instance, Franklin cut her short: “Liz, if this was a roadside stop, this would be the point in the conversation where I’d ask you to step out of the vehicle.”

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