It’s a bold new attempt to origami the police procedural into an interesting new shape for an audience overwhelmed by cops n’ corpses. It could work, should work, particularly as it has former producer of The Bill, Paul Marquess as its exec producer: a factual feel that also combines CCTV and interview footage to bring us closer to the intense emotions of everyone at the epicentre of a crime, and semi-improv (the cast were largely told of scenes the night before shooting) to capture the raw, acid-gut reactions from the cast as the plot uncoils.
And what could provoke greater emotions that the apparent abduction of a little girl from her bed, as is the plot in Episode 1? Enter our troupe of coppers, DS Weston (Being Human’s Damien Molony), DC Steele (Clare Hope Ashitey), and their commander DI Bellamy (Fay Ripley), who are all terrific actors in their own right, but none of whom seem suited to the immediacy of improvisation. The result is a lot of ‘errrm’s, sighs, and unnatural body language that feels less like instinctual reactions and more like actors stalling for time while they think of something to say.
Damien Molony, who we loved in Being Human and Ripper Street, is at his best when confining his acting to expressions (never thought we’d say that); Fay Ripley sounds out of her depth; Clare Hope Ashitey really is given nowhere near enough to work with. Only young actor Jamie F. Glover comes off well as Toby, brother of the kidnapped girl, giving a confident performance that strengthens with every scene and becomes something very memorable indeed.
In its ‘documentary style’ it strives for reality and yet somehow it feels less than real. Despite its constantly roaming camera it’s oddly static; shot through ajar doorways and ends of corridors, like someone who just wandered into a police station and decided to hang about to see what was happening and maybe make use of the hot drinks machine. The camera feels as uncomfortable as many of the actors, with the result being that as an audience we’re never sure if we’re being invited to watch this or if we’re intruding. It’s distancing rather than invasive; the very opposite of what a documentary should be.
It’s strangely apt, but disappointing, that a channel famed for screening documentaries usually named by an Alan Partridge think-tank (“Ideas for shows, Lynne: Supersize Grime and My Face is Eating Me Alive”) should make its first home-grown drama in nearly a decade something that is shot in the style of a documentary. With this talented cast, and without the docu-improv guff, this could have been a solid show, albeit one unfortunate enough to air on the same night as BBC Two’s police drama Line of Duty.
It is fantastic that Channel 5 have put money into original drama, and hopefully they’ll spend more on creating ambitious new shows. God knows, TV always needs it. It just doesn’t need something as superfluous as Suspects.
Aired at 10pm on Wednesday 12 February 2014 on Channel 5.