Babylon (3 stars)


A bad cop/worse cop comedy-drama lacking true grit

After a pilot episode in February which seemed hell-bent on kettling far too many ideas and personalities into a stuffed and confused comedy-drama riot, police show Babylon is back for a full series. Given the pedigree of its writers (Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain), director (Danny Boyle) and stars (James Nesbitt, Brit Marling, Paterson Joseph for just three), there was something truly up for this not to have been given an immediate green light. Whatever the process, a six-part series is here and with a bit more time for the show to breathe, it looks like making more of a lasting impact.

Former internet PR guru Liz Garvey (Marling) is continuing to push ahead with her re-branding of the Metropolitan Police. That’s a tough task in itself without having to encounter unbridled hostility from Finn (Bertie Carvel) – the bitter communications officer who feels that he should be doing her job – and the mixed signals she’s receiving from an occasionally baffling Commissioner, Richard Miller (Nesbitt). And then there’s the little fact of the force seemingly able to contrive a daily crisis, whether it’s an officer shooting an unarmed man or a prison riot going horribly wrong or the deputy mayor’s son being arrested for possession.

The murky side-dealings, personality conflicts and accident-prone leaders make this sometimes feel as though The Thick of It (which Armstrong wrote for) has simply relocated from Whitehall to New Scotland Yard. But as enjoyable as the main performances are (Nesbitt probably takes most of the plaudits for his edgy police boss with a possibly shady past he seems keen to protect), the programme doesn’t really have its own Malcolm Tucker who can help elevate this into something bigger and better.

Still, there’s a less frantic, hurried feel to the proceedings which plagued its pilot episode, with even some plot development and character progression allowed to creep in. That sense of a roomier palette is aided by being allowed a glimpse into the non-work lives of both the stressed-out boots-on-the-ground officers and the head honchos who, in and out of the office, are making all the wrong moves.

Babylon starts on Channel 4, Thursday 13 November, 9pm.

Danny Boyle's Babylon | Channel 4

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