Danny Boyle? Sam Bain? Jesse Armstrong? I don’t think I was the only one to await Sunday’s Babylon with more than a usual degree of interest.
Sunday’s programme was a pilot for a six part series due to start in the spring. If spring ever comes. The focus is the relationship between the public and the police here in the UK, inspired by the riots that occurred in August 2011 after the shooting of Mark Duggan.
There’s been a lot of revelations that have inspired distrust in the police over the last few years, particularly the fact that undercover police have been pinching the identities of young children. It has seemed at times like the police are keener to cover their own arses than to uphold law and order, and Babylon explores this world where the Met are doing their best to bridge the gap and boost their PR.
The pilot focuses on the first day of Liz Garvey, former Instagram employee, a young American full of earnest pep who has arrived to be head of comms at the Met. Her brief is to restore trust, and her watchword is transparency. All too soon, however, a gunman begins to terrorise London and she increasingly appears as a naïve newcomer whose bleatings about honesty aren’t doing her any favours.
Babylon was billed as a comedy drama, and I really enjoyed it, but honestly I only found it funny thinking back. There was a couple of laugh out loud moments, but otherwise it was amusing and ironic rather than overtly comedic. Adam Deacon’s Robbie, a young policeman keen to move into armed response, is particularly hilarious. Kind people would describe him as high-spirited, and he certainly isn’t the sort of policeman you’d want in an emergency, let alone holding a gun. There is a documentary fellow following Robbie’s team, and you can see his eyes light up as he encounters Robbie and his views for the first time. He is a reality tv dream.
Generally, I thought it was much more successful as a drama than as a comedy. Watching the police try and find a middle line between what Liz is looking for and what they think is safe to tell was very interesting, and I suspect quite true to life. Ditto the moment where the armed response team find the gunman and request instruction. No-one is prepared to make a decision on the line to take, which results, inevitably in chaos.
Overall, it was good. I will be interested to see the line the series takes. Obviously we don’t want the serious points they are making to be overwhelmed by comedy, but given how good Bain and Armstrong are at making comedy out of controversy, it would be good to see more jollies.