Cop shows have changed. I don’t think that comes as a surprise to anyone. Where the change happened however, is something I can’t decide upon. was it ‘The Sweeney’ taking the focus away from ‘proper’ police procedurals? Or was it ‘The Wire’ making us care as deeply about the criminals as the cops? In many cases, we care more for the criminals. Certainly with The Wire, most of the cops are deeply flawed individuals, and some of the criminals are highly moral characters. Either way, the police procedural of 2011 is very different even to the procedural of 2002. Back in the late 90’s we had shows such as ‘A Touch of Frost’ and ‘Dalziel & Pascoe’ here in the UK while America was being treated to the tail end of ‘Diagnosis: Murder’ and the burgeoning ‘Law & Order’ franchise.
I grew up on ‘A Touch Of Frost’ and many a Sunday evening were spent in front of a warm fire watching the legendary David Jason solve crimes in his own unique way, having a lovely cup of tea and a chocolate digestive (the king of biscuits!). It wasn’t until Warren Clarke rolled up as Andy Dalziel, based on Reginald Hill’s series of novels, that I really got gripped by a detective show. The easy going nature of the show, combined with the classic contrast between gruff, old school Dalziel and his new, rookie partner Pascoe made for essential viewing in my house. We were on the verge of a whole new generation of cops, fresh from university, armed with cell phones and the internet.Pascoe was one of these, leading him to clash with Dalziel on a regular basis.
As is often the case, these mismatched investigations combined the old school tactics of gut feelings, hunches and ‘knowing a wrong ‘un’ tended to combine with new science, DNA profiling and other technological advancements, to solve the crime and put the bad guy away.
As heard in the latest episode of Culturally Fixated, one of my favourite shows, of any genre, is ‘Life On Mars’. Such a unique and innovative take on the cop show is not easy to find. Starring John Simm, one of my favourite actors since ‘Boston Kickout’ and ‘The Lakes’, meant that I was always going to watch it. Enjoying it was a whole other experience. It happened instantly, as soon as Sam Tyler woke up in the 70’s to the sound of David Bowie’s title song, I was with it, totally sucked into the world of Manchester in the 70’s.
One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy it’s sequel ‘Ashes To Ashes’ as much was because the lead character, Alex, was such an insufferable know all. It also gave us a very distinct finish to the previous show. One of the reasons people liked Life On Mars, was the uncertainty, as Sam said in the credit sequence ‘am I mad, in a coma, or back in time?’. For the entire two series run it was not clear, and the ending was amazing. Interspersed with all the time travel nonsense was the heart of a proper cop show, with proper crimes and one of the most charismatic characters of all time, Gene Hunt. A proper, old fashioned, un-PC copper. If you haven’t seen it, look it up, or shout me, I’ll lend you my copy!
Speaking of old-fashioned coppers, that leads me onto ‘Luther’, something of a throwback to ‘old fashioned’ coppers, leading with their gut instincts. John Luther is a whole different animal, although almost cut from the same mould as Hunt, he works very well with the internet generation of police work.
He is very much a man on the edge for most of the (all too brief) ten episodes we have seen thus far. What he is, is a man who knows right from wrong, and walks the thin line very carefully. He cares not for himself, or his own safety, but will punish those who hurt the innocent. His is a more complex case given the relationship of sorts that Luther has with Alice, a sociopath he is tasked with arresting. I do not want to spoil the show for anyone who has not yet seen it, so go find it, again, I have the DVD if you need! Needless to say, it is badass!!
I wanted to cover ‘The Wire’ in a bit more depth, but the level of the show means I need to cover it in a separate entry.
So, for now, go listen to us talk cop shows on ‘Culturally Fixated’ (link to the right) or go check out any of the shows mentioned, except the US remake of ‘Life On Mars’, which was poo.