It’s an odd partnership, but after watching the fruit of their labours, Channel 4’s new police comedy-drama Babylon, it’s clear that it’s a match made in heaven, despite how unorthodox said partnership initially appears.
It helps that Babylon is entirely unlike anything we’ve seen on television up till now, at least in terms of police dramas. A unique and creative spin on the police procedural; Armstrong and Bain carefully balance the crime-solving and the police work with the internal politics within the police force and the PR machine. It’s a clever and arresting twist on what is often a clichéd and overdone genre, blending the actual investigation with scenes of the Metropolitan Police’s Press team, racing against time to ensure that events and rumours don’t speed out of control and send the public into panic.
What makes things all the more interesting is just how watchable and engaging these scenes are, no doubt down to Boyle’s first class direction and some great tense performances from all concerned. Full of bitching, spin-doctoring and political backstabbing, Babylon casts a fresh twist on the usual police investigation proceedings.
Babylon also succeeds with its collection of morally complex characters. From leading lady and head of PR Liz Garvey (brilliantly played by Arbitrage’s Brit Marling) to Jimmy Nesbitt’s Chief Constable Richard Miller, every character is in some way flawed or corruptible, despite how good they see themselves.
Even Daniel Kaluuya’s Matt, a loveable cameraman tasked with following the police on patrol, is shown to be self-serving and open to corruption. It’s a good sign for future episodes that the characters are all so varied and interesting, no doubt due to their fallibility and self serving egos. Characters such as Liz’s slimy second-in-command Finn (Bertie Carvel), Nick Blood’s Warwick, the sharpshooter with much inner turmoil, and Adam Deacon’s Robbie, the foul-mouthed and insolent cop with an uncontrollable violent streak show that there’s plenty of interesting developments to come when the show returns for a full series later this year.
There are a few minor problems. The script is dynamite, though the central mystery is a tad underdeveloped. The moments of pure humour feel occasionally forced and out of touch with the more dramatic moments. But these problems matter very little, when everything else in the show is much more interesting and arresting.
A wonderfully clever and daring mash-up of The Bill and The Thick of It, Babylon boasts amazing performances, sublime direction and, best of all, a clever new take on a tired TV drama genre.
Aired at 9pm on Sunday 9 February 2014 on Channel 4.