Informer, episode one review: New BBC terrorism thriller is as nonsensical as Bodyguard

To make a drama work, the script must sing line by line. The main response ‘Informer’ provokes is to make the viewer scream, roll their eyes and text their friends to say, ‘are you watching this?’

Ed Cumming
Tuesday 16 October 2018 22:01
Informer teaser trailer

It is weird to have Informer (BBC1) on so soon after Bodyguard (BBC1). The two series are so alike that only their mother – or perhaps Auntie – could tell them apart. Where Bodyguard was a six-part thriller about a caring but troubled police officer (Richard Madden) fighting sophisticated terrorists in London, Informer is a six-part thriller about a caring but troubled counter-terrorism officer (Paddy Considine) fighting sophisticated terrorists in London.

The obvious defence of the scheduling is that they are to be seen as companion pieces. Rather than close-protection, Informer’s premise is that in an age of constant counter-terrorism, our security depends on the complicated relationships between law enforcement and their secret sources. Where the earlier programme was pure plot, at the expense of more prosaic qualities such as making sense, Informer is billed as being “character-driven”, which we take to mean will be full of scenes in which characters stub toes, miss trains, get irritated by their mothers in law and other failsafe signs they are Real People.

It’s not that it isn’t well made. Produced by Sam Mendes and directed by Johnny Campbell, fresh from polishing twaddle in Westworld, Informer looks great. The east London it depicts is so crisp and glossy that it’s hard to imagine anyone being radicalised there, except into a cold-press coffee cult. No complaints about the cast, either, especially charismatic newcomer Nabhaan Rizwan as Raza Shah, a young British-Pakastani man who finds himself being manipulated by counter-terrorism authorities after being arrested on a minor drugs offence. Considine, as per, is no slouch. His DS Gabe Waters is all gruff heart as he shows his rookie partner Holly Morten (Bel Powley) the ropes.

The problem is that as this formula is repeated, it grows increasingly tiresome. How many times does a drama need to laboriously inform the viewer that Muslim families make jokes, too? It’s like the British audience is still in some kind of corrective system. Until wokeness improves, the beatings will continue.

We have seen all these tropes so many times that to make a drama work, the script must sing line by line. Informer’s script does not sing line by line. In fact the main response it provokes is to make the viewer scream, roll their eyes and text their friends to say, “are you watching this?”.

Initially I was inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt, and even checked my privilege. After all I, cosseted white male reviewer, have never grown up in a Muslim British-Asian family in a council flat in east London. Perhaps they really do spend the whole time advising each other to say things like “Don’t freak; I’m Sikh”. Nor have I worked in a counter-terrorism department, so maybe the bosses do speak to each other like Morpheus in The Matrix. “That’s as much as the gods have given us,” says DCI Rose Asante (Sharon D Clarke), listing the information on a terror suspect. “We paint the rest of the picture ourselves.”

When Raza went to a Shoreditch warehouse flat full of ghastly white gentrifiers, and then to a rave full of people called Charlotte and Tristan, however, I'm on safer ground. By the time Raza’s lawyer says “life’s not an orchard, you don’t get to stroll through and pick the fruit you want” in the corridor outside the magistrate’s office, I'm howling. No, he wouldn’t have said that. She wouldn’t have said that. No, nope, definitely not, lol, rofl, pls stop.

The writers, Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani, apparently met in their first week at film-writing school. It’s a pity for them – and for the talent around them – that they seem to have stayed there. The idea behind Informer is fine, even if the subject is overdone, and its cast and crew do their best, but you need real characters if you’re going to ask them to drive.

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