Tuesday, 11 February 2014


Sunday 9th February saw the feature-length pilot episode of cop drama Babylon on Channel 4. If you're reading this soon after the event, then you can still watch Babylon on 4od here.

The trailers had been fairly funny, but in common with most films and tv I'd expected the actual show to be pretty poor, with its only decent parts used up in the advertising. In particular it seemed inconceivable that James Nesbitt would turn in a decent performance as Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, or that his character would be anything other than a very negative caricature given that the show was directed by Danny Boyle.

So it was with a smile that I realised, an hour in, that actually I was rather enjoying myself. I'm not a police officer and it's not something that's ever appealed to me, but I've spent a great deal of time with cops both on-duty and off. There were many things that the writers got absolutely, almost scarily, correct. The inane humour, born of over-familiarity and boredom, was exactly right - some parts of the show felt like they could be a fly-on-the-wall documentary. The first half hour of overtime is indeed "for the Queen", and the Two Chairmen pub, less than two minutes from the real Scotland Yard, certainly does serve up really, terribly, bad pies.

In short, this is a show that deserves a full series. Yes, it might still tank, especially if the writers burnt all their decent material in the pilot, but it's well worth a punt. What I really hope is that the decision to air a pilot on British tv is one small step towards American-style television production, where good enough shows win money for a pilot and, if considered better than the majority of their peers in that season, get further funding to go on and create a fantastic series with really high value production specs. Sniff all you like at the country or the medium, but America has given us the world's best tv, from The West Wing, Prison Break and Dexter to The Wire, Breaking Bad and Homeland by way of Modern Family and 30 Rock. Unlike British tv, they don't run out of steam after 6-12 episodes, and unlike Scanditele they don't take 500 hours to investigate one dead bloke. We could learn a lot, and I really hope that this is the first sign of something good happening to British tv.

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