TV Review – Line of Duty, The Exclusives, Euro 2012, Tour de France

Take A Shot At The King

Is it too much to ask for a British equivalent of The Wire? You know, just a little something with the equivalent of the scope, quality and sheer awesomeness of what people call the greatest TV show ever made? Hey, here’s the latest from the always underwhelming Jed Mercurio. Line of Duty (BBC2) finds him finally attaching himself to a subject perfect for him, the police procedural.

Set in the exciting world of police corruption, the first episode presents us our equivalent of hard-drinking, womanising and annoyingly intelligent McNulty, the anti-hero of The Wire. He’s played by a twelve-year-old called Martin Compston and the entire breadth of his character is to look constantly pained. He refuses to cover up an Anti-Terrorist Unit cock-up. “You’re finished,” snarls his boss Owen Teale, taking five minutes off from saying similar things on Game of Thrones.

But he’s not finished because our honest-for-no-good-reason hero winds up at the Anti-Corruption Unit (or AC12 to use the lingo, on which Line of Duty is steeped) under the over-enthusiastic care of Adrian Dunbar. “I’ve got a very special case for you.”

That case is Lennie James, a seemingly perfect copper. We first see him briefly getting up from breakfast to bust a couple of muggers on the street. This doesn’t impress Dunbar. “He’s got the best crime figures in the job. Nobody’s that good.” Compston looks slightly more pained than usual. He’s not so sure about James.

Whereas something like The Wire would have unlikely scenarios, they felt right because they were usually based on actual things that happened. Here, we just get contrived coincidences. So, just as AC12 is turning its attentions on him, James’s girlfriend Gina McKee hits what she thinks is a dog whilst drink driving. She’s got previous for this sort of thing and will go to the Big House if caught, so she begs James to help her out. Reluctantly, James makes it look like joyriders nicked her car. Then he goes home to his wife.

So James is willing to bend the law but is he corrupt? You get the impression this may take some time, as Mercurio is going to some lengths to keep the is-he-or-isn’t-he plot strung out. The set-up of James’s office is all male and stuffed with Sweeney-like characters played by the untrustworthy likes of Neil Morrissey and, especially, Craig Parkinson, a go-to guy for this sort of role. He even played Tony Wilson in one of the several thousand films about Joy Division and out-oiled Steve Coogan. With a team like this, James must be dodgy.

The obviousness of the casting is about as subtle as some of the writing. Mercurio is determined to show that modern policing is admin-heavy and no point is left un-hammered home. For example, another copper played by Vicky McClure has to deal with a poor guy who has been regularly burgled. She knows full well they don’t have the resources to deal with him and, with her boss ordering her to massage the figures in the report, it’s getting her down. She works in the same office as James but in lowly CID. “We get all the crap no-one wants. Every week it’s a new initiative or a new audit.”

Compston meets the lovely McClure as he’s on his way to meet James. Their meet-cute is short-lived. “Are you with AC12?” she asks, with the frostiness of Mr. Freeze sucking a Magnum.

Compston later tries to pursue her again. “We seem to have got off on the wrong foot,” but she’s wangled her way into James’s elite unit (called TO20) and wants nothing to do with him. Plus, Dunbar has also laid the charge of ‘laddering’ on James, (trans. to only go after the sexy cases and pile on extra charges to beef up figures). Is that corruption? Compston looks pained about the whole thing. “I thought anti-corruption was about getting blokes on the take.”

Nevertheless, James’s unit is going after corner-level drug dealers, and for a moment you get happy memories of The Wire, swiftly dashed when you realise it’s Neil bloody Morrissey running the stakeouts and not Kima, Carver and Herc. Compston tries to make peace with James, but the latter is not happy. “You take a shot at the king, make sure you kill him son.”

Whenever Line of Duty threatens to turn into a mature and engrossing study of modern policing, Mercurio can’t help putting in more unbelievable coincidences. McClure was working for AC12 all along! And McKee didn’t hit a dog but a man. And he was her accountant! And James deletes all the files on the hit-and-run just as Compston is looking at them. Unbelievable! as Chris Kamara would say. And that’s just the first episode. Line of Duty has the lingo, but the stories are pure hokum.

We need an authenticity palate cleanser and there’s nothing more realistic on TV than reality TV. It’s there in the title people. The Exclusives (ITV2) has largely snuck under the reality radar because it’s a show where would-be journalists try to get a job on a celebrity weekly, and there isn’t much scope for screaming morons and deluded no-talents which would normally get the attention (think The Apprentice or The X Factor before the real tools have been weeded out). The people competing have to be quite intelligent and talented from the start. But this is celebrity culture so, you know, not that much.

“Red carpet glamour, film premieres and celebs galore,” introduces the narrator, legally stipulated to be Lauren Laverne. In the final show, the six contestants had been whittled down to three. Felix is posh, has floppy hair and is effortlessly confident, even when he clearly hasn’t got a clue. Ellie is blonde, driven and usually so stressed out she could power her own laptop. Stuart wears lots of gel, has a nose stud and doesn’t seem to actually like journalism. However will they decide who will win?

The task is to produce an eight page mini-magazine in three days. They are obliged to look terrified at this prospect but old hacks like me will tell you that’s a piece of piss. Try writing a 48 page magazine and design it yourself in a week, lightweights. Anyway, each contestant is given a z-list celebrity to interview and photograph for the mini-mag.

The only innovation the contestants are allowed seems to be the theme and the name of the mag. Stuart still struggles (“My mind’s blank. That’s what it feels like”) and Ellie needlessly takes on the styling of the shoot as well, driving her further into stress (“I hate them more than life itself,” she sobs, regarding a pair of pink shoes). Of the exclusives of the title, there seems to be no sign. The celebs involved have long since given away every last fact about themselves.

But this is a reality show, so we get all the usual stuff that somehow seems to pad out these shows. Every incident is foreshadowed by a chirpy voice over (“Coming up, it’s judgement day!”) and then reviewed in a talking to camera bit. And because this is the last show of the series, we get lots of flashbacks to previous episodes, reminding us of an embarrassed Felix asking Kerry Katona what her favourite sexual position is. Kerry, by now a veteran of this nonsense, doesn’t blink but looks thoughtful. “Der’s so many ter choose from.”

So who wins? Stuart, with his dislike of talking to people or even phoning them up, was a no-hoper. In the real world Felix would win it because he’s posh and they always seem to get these jobs. But in the end Ellie got the job, simply because she actually went beyond the tame celeb she was assigned and got a brief interview with Tinchy Stryder by hanging out on a red carpet for three hours. Even the bosses of More magazine seem to recognise this as actual journalism. Ellie won because she got an actual exclusive, no matter how miniscule. But no exclusive is too miniscule for this world.

As Euro 2012 fades into memory, let us once again appreciate Mark Lawrenson, observational stand-up comic. “Take him off,” he sarked, when Pirlo missed an early long shot. “What is that for goodness sake,” he wearied after a dive. “Sniper’s had him,” he mocked when a player unfortunately went down with a hamstring injury. There are many who don’t like ‘Lawro’ but I say keep him. We need his Jerry Seinfeld take on life whilst everyone else is hopelessly trying to apply statistical analysis to understand why Germany didn’t make it to the final.

For the time being, there’s always the Tour de France (ITV4). There are two commentators; Phil and Paul. Paul says twice as much as Phil and has half as much to say. His pronouncements are train wrecks of inarticulateness. “The rider is sitting at the back there, turning his legs over very nicely indeed.” He says things like that every five minutes. Private Eye’s Commentatorballs would be inundated every summer, but luckily for Paul nobody watches the Tour de France.

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

One Response to TV Review – Line of Duty, The Exclusives, Euro 2012, Tour de France

  1. Pingback: How to Stop Being a Loser | movie reviews and ratings, movie trailers coming soon, movie dvd releases

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