Grace Dent on TV: Line of Duty, BBC2
OK, so I haven't got the faintest idea who the bad guys are, but
the car chases are brilliant
I'm rather loving Line of Duty on BBC2, which I'm going to talk about in this
column, under a heading that says "Line of Duty", so please buzz off if you get
glum about spoilers.
I'm not entirely sure I've got the full thrust of its twisty-turny plot, but I know I need a stiff vodka when the credits roll. Line of Duty is a a sort of "The Bill meets The Wire meets Eden Lake". It's a whole lot of shouting, double-bluffing and bolt-cutter manicures. It has gangsters lynched from lamp-posts, acres of bureaucratic red-tape, multi-layered police corruption, bloody-puddles, screeching tyres and Gina McKee dirty talking to Lennie James. Being all "Oooooh DCI Tony, you can doooo anything to meeee you know that. Nothing is off limits!" while a nation yells, "STOP IT NICE LADY OFF NOTTING HILL, stop doing mucky breathing and insinuating you're tampering with yourself. Make Hugh Grant be adorable and self-deprecating for a brownie again!" McKee, playing the frankly dodgy "Jackie", had her fun-times cut short this week when she wound up lying in a deep-freeze with her throat cut. This much I know.
This week's episode has, however, left me more confused as to who the actual baddies are than ever before. The blokes in the black-windowed SUV who keep posting Jiffy Bags of fingers to enemies are certainly no gentlemen. Meanwhile DCI Tony Gates (Lennie James) is up to his neck in poo and willing to take every other cop down with him. I love DS Steve Arnott's (Martin Compston's) swagger and guile, but I'm sure other viewers find him to be a stirring little berk who'd benefit from a trip to Boltcutter Bill.
All in all, Line of Duty is a bit hammy and a bit clangy, but, as summer continues to pour down outside, it's the perfect miserable indoor accompaniment to all that dealing with trench-foot, cancelling a barbecue and ringing the insurance about flood damage.
Line of Duty is perfect pissed-on television. The sun never shines on TV for DCI Tony Gates and the TO-20 squad. Or for the team of hapless anti-terrorist marksmen who swoop in to prevent a suicide bomber, get the door number wrong and kill his neighbour. Or for their cop station full of sicknote-wielding admin clerks moaning about "their nerves'"
"The union says you can't talk to me about cases as it makes me anxious and brings on me migraine," an asthmatic secretary will moan, munching a biscuit. There's no sunshine either for the station's neighbouring problem-housing estate, filled with kids so soulless and macabre that their grotty little faces should be printed on the back of the morning-after pill box to boost sales.
Ok, so DCI Gates's mistress is dead, Arnott knows the whole set-up is shady and the gangland-related mess is escalating. This much of the plotline I can recount. The rest is rather hazy. For me, Line of Duty is one of those dramas – like The Wire or The Bridge – that plays out on a different frequency, to say, the one my husband can hear. "We've got a 412 on the snafflegate overhang ferlump, Sarg!" one cop will shout, grabbing his car keys. Well that's what I hear anyway. "Well why are you WAITING!?" his boss will roar, suddenly furious. Furious about what? Don't ask me. "DCI Boswell will be all over this and his ACPQ's will milk it dry. Get a fackin move on! And don't take DCI Hurumphch, those CGY boys are still mad about the sphghg."
"What the hell happened there?" I'll say, not at all annoyingly. Just like I don't get stabby when someone sits down beside me during EastEnders and says, "so how exactly does Kat know Alfie then?" or 'is this still set in London?" Not fully getting the twists in things like Line of Duty, or giving up on season two of The Wire, is like not being able to hear a dog whistle. Give me five episodes of Mary Wesley's wartime smut The Camomile Lawn, which I've been drinking in this week on 4OD, and I'm drowning in plot, metaplot and subtexts. Or a lovely episode of Cranford where nothing appears to be happening for 60 minutes aside from Judi Dench eating an orange and a valuable piece of historic lace being swallowed by a cat, and I can wiffle at length about dramatic tension, denouement and intertextuality.
With Line of Duty, now on week three, I'm possibly enjoying about 45 per cent of the plot, yet I'm calmly content with the pithy one-liners ("If you're going to take a shot at the king, son, make sure that you kill him!") and the thrilling chase-y bits where a man drives a car very fast despite being told by his colleague that it is "NOT A SPECIFIED AND REGISTERED CHASE VEHICLE". I love that in Jed Mercurio's police world the paperwork and the rules and procedure guidelines are as big a pain in the rear as being shot at by crooks. And I'll miss Gina McKee as Jackie, but at least we know that in the run-up to her death she was very, very happy.
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