Dear The Shadow Line, (BBC2, Thursdays @9pm)
Are you trying to make a mug out of me? You know I’m only one week from retirement and you lumber me with this new maverick cop show that just won’t play by the rules? I’m getting too old for this sh…
You see, I’ve also got the “Big Book of Cop Show Cliche’s” and, whilst it’s a riveting read, I read the disclaimer at the beginning that warned against basing an entire big budget series around these feeble and predictable bits of nonsense. If only you’d bothered to do the same eh? Of course I know you better than that, you’re not going to read something that might engender you with an element of self-doubt (which is why I know that by this point you’ve stopped reading and I’m talking to myself) however one thing I know that you’ll have read (probably many many times) are those reviews and previews that compared you to ‘The Wire’. I have to say that I agree with them. You’re exactly like The Wire in that you have a cast which also features several English actors. Your show is also an hour-long. Your show is also on BBC2. Your show is shot with cameras and features some cars. I’m sorry, I really can’t do this. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m struggling to find any actual reason why anyone would ever make this comparison, and here’s why:
Freaman got annoyed when the rest of 'The Wire' gang kept interfering with his game of Minesweeper
The Wire is one of the finest pieces of drama – of any form – that I have ever seen. It’s excellence in every single department is genuinely quite humbling and the experience of watching it is something that’s difficult to explain to anyone who has never seen it. In short it’s so good – so mind blowingly wonderful – that I would never compare any TV programme, film, book, play, scientific concept, miracle, sandwich, pizza topping or real life experience to even its weakest episode. It simply wouldn’t be fair.
You, by contrast I’ll happily compare just about anything to. It’s not because you’re not as good as ‘The Wire’ – I think I’ve made it quite clear that that’s not really achievable – it’s because you’re not as good as ‘Wire in the Blood’, a programme that’s set its sights on mediocrity and hit the target with aplomb, ‘Wires’ – the heart-rending Athlete song, or even ‘Bird on a Wire’ the rubbish 90’s movie featuring Mel Gibson before he became obsessed with the Hebrew types and a pre-huge amounts of cosmetic surgery Goldie Hawn. You’re not even as good as wire, actual metal wire, that at least has several uses whereas you have just one – irritating me into a state of utter despair. If that seems a little harsh then I apologise, I was aiming for being really very harsh indeed.
So what’s made you this bad? I mean Hugo Blick’s been involved with some fantastic telly (Marion and Geoff for example), and you’ve got a cast featuring the admirable and unpronounceable Chiwetel Ejiofor, intense goggly eyed ex-Doctor Who type Christopher Ecclestone (who looks like he’s lost a lot of weight, is he alright?) and current Pete in Pete vs Life, Rafe ‘son of Timothy off Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ Spall – you can’t go wrong with that lot can you? Well yes, you’ve proved quite admirably that you can.
The thing is that it doesn’t matter about the heritage of your writer/director if they produce utter nonsense right now. I mean when I spent the longest 90 minutes of my life watching the unadulterated shite fest that was ‘The Happening’ it was scant consolation that I’d enjoyed ‘The Sixth Sense’ ten years before. Likewise the fact that Germany had given us Beethoven didn’t seem to cut the mustard with Churchill (again the tubby Prime Minister/cigar fan, not insurance selling dog) when Hitler started stomping around picking up countries he liked. You’re only ever as good as your last piece of work and I’m afraid that for Hugo this means he’s a hack who should accept defeat and head for the bright lights of Chester village Hollyoaks. Go to the Dog in the Pond, ask for Carl Costello – he’ll set you up with something more at your current level.
You’re probably thinking “Well, it’s easy to criticise.” and you’re absolutely right, it is easy – and you made the task so very much easier by not including a single character who talked like a, what do you call them, you know, that’s it – human being. The whole script stinks of trying way too hard to win awards, but the thing is you don’t win awards by creating unbelievable characters who each have weird ticks, peculiar habits and strange speech patterns (The Kings Speech excluded of course), you win awards by creating believable characters who people start to think of as ‘real’ and you do that by having them say things real people say, just better, funnier, cooler. I’m sure you aimed for this, but you missed – and you missed by a distance. To have one or two characters with quirky turns of phrase and speech patterns can add colour to a scene or act, to have every single character talking in an inexplicably unique fashion makes you wonder if the writer’s had a stroke.
An awkward silence fills the car as DI Gabriel tries to decipher Officer Honey's last insult. It's been 10 minutes.
Problems I had in episodes one and two included (but were certainly not limited to):
The bent copper who spoke like he was reading from a Sam Spade novel. He set the tone very well, very well indeed.
Officer Honey who, despite being obviously filled with rage and certainly being all edgy and what not can’t speak. When she’s delivering one of her (clearly intended to be legendary) insults she’s less convincing than Miss Autocue herself Anne Robinson – I mean seriously, “…the first syllable in country.” no-one, and I do mean no-one would ever say that. It’s long-winded and makes you sound like a ‘the first syllable of titular’.
DS Patterson – ooh, now there’s an interesting chap, better give him a peculiar quirk – how about he’s unaware of the smoking laws that have been in place for a few years, and so he very deliberately picks up pencils and stuff and sucks on them – yeah, that’ll do. I reckon that could come in handy further down the line – a clue that he’s been somewhere he shouldn’t have perhaps… Also, get him to speak really staccato – and in riddles – it’ll make him seem very deep and intelligent and not at all like a tool.
Rafe Spall as Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast – yes, he’s an utter mentalist, and actually quite a convincing one at times, but he’s so one-dimensional I reckon a tough guy could probably fold him up a couple of times and slip him under the door like Flat Stanley.
The dead coppers mum saying “It’s in this room isn’t it…the bullet that killed him.” Worst. Dialogue. Ever.
The amount of exposition – I assume that the people involved in the story know what’s going on, so I wonder why they feel the need to constantly explain what’s happening to each other. Lazy, Shadow Line, very lazy.
The fabled 'Staff of Ra' came free with everything purchased in Ikea
That briefcase full of cash. Okay, fair enough, maybe it means he’s bent, maybe not, but what it certainly tells us is that Mr Blick had serious difficulties figuring out how the shot in the head copper might find it. An allen key in a shoe box? Come on. I mean it’s a bolt, not the 9th Chevron of the f**king Stargate – if you’re keeping that amount of dodgy money in a secret little compartment in your suspiciously large walk in wardrobe in your small house then why on earth would you keep an allen key in an otherwise empty shoe box right on top of it? Why not just buy a giant neon sign that says “The Cash is Here” or hire one of those people with the Golf Sale signs to stand next to it? Everyone who has ever bought anything at Ikea has a draw filled with those bloody things and know exactly where to get one if the table leg comes loose (again) or they need to get access to their stash of cash. Not, however, our intelligent detective, oh no. To him this allen key is a mystical thing like Harry Potters wand or the Staff of Ra and it must be kept close by, lest it be lost and the cash will be entombed forever in it’s MDF prison. Ridiculous and implausible.
The dim lighting? Is there some kind of economy drive going on that I haven’t been told about? Never before have so many people intentionally lived and worked in conditions that make it very difficult to see properly.
That press conference. No, sorry, not having any of that at all. Not a bit of it.
The driver’s girlfriend – stop answering the bloody door love. Seriously, pigeons learn faster than that.
The driver’s mum – house by council, hair by Supercuts, script by William Wordsworth. Talking about looking in to the abyss? Come off it.
That bit before the interview with the drivers mum, a scene so earnestly determined to establish Gabriel and Honey as the Holmes and Watson of the Met but actually came across as a GCSE drama piece – “When you go into a bar do you sit down straight away or scope the place out?” personally I go to the bar and order a drink, rum and coke if you don’t mind. Large. Then again, I’m neither Jason Bourne or Tony Soprano like you Chiwetel and I’m certainly not whatever Honey’s supposed to be. It was a scene that could have come straight from Mitchell and Webb’s ‘Lazy Writers’, except some of their stuff is more believable.
And the gleaming dew drop on the tip of the steaming pile: the interview with the drivers mum. Her with her talk of ‘the abyss’ and she might have mentioned Avatar as well, I’m not sure. Insinuating that unless you have kids it’s impossible to comprehend that a mum would do anything for them was another favourite. Her solicitor doing a very good impression of an actual solicitor who really wasn’t comfortable with the idea of ‘acting’. And Detective Gabriel with his intriguing little speeches and bizarre mood swings, going from whisper to screaming frenzy in the blink of an eye. It was like a roller coaster in so many ways – I certainly felt a little sick afterwards.
God I’m exhausted!
In fairness episode two was slightly better than episode one but that’s a no brainer really, you’d made it almost impossible to plumb lower depths – I mean I remember the day I was in a car crash, it was pretty nasty, but it was better than the day when my dog died.
You can do better.
You must do better.
In the meantime, please have a watch of episode one and think to yourselves “I did that.” and be ashamed.
Yours in Disappointment
PS – I won’t start on the whole ’24 style’ phone call tracking chase nonsense
PPS – I should really have said that I thought Eccleston was quite good. His script’s still bloody awful though.