He Kills Coppers, ITV1

Did we like it?
A decent enough drama, capably acted, but diminished by the almost utter absence of any character who wasn’t tainted or tiresome.

What was good about it?
• Rafe Spall continues to flourish as one of the country’s best young talents on TV, not least for his versatility. Here he played the impulsive, corrupt, decadent Frank Taylor, a green copper whose single-minded goal was to make the Flying Squad as soon as possible.
• But once he had scaled this Mount Olympus of metropolitan policedom all he found was a superior who was even more bent than himself, and an artificial system that rewarded both criminals and coppers with financial pay offs to keep everyone happy and “the public sleeping safely in their beds”.
• Spall’s twitchy, erratic Frank kept you focused on his odyssey, no matter how unpleasant he became whether vengefully sleeping with Jeannie (Kelly Reilly), a woman linked to an investigation on police corruption pursued far more fervently by his partner and friend John Young (Liam Garrigan).
• As Frank sinks ever deeper into an alcoholic hovel of self-pity, it’s only the murder of John that snaps him out of it.
• The debauched Soho of the ‘swinging’ 60s was brought vividly to life with grimy streets, glaring lights, unkempt alleyways and wooden doors that could be spectacularly bashed down by a phalanx of incensed police officers. We suspect that the impression was designed to appeal to the stereotype handed down by Rolling Stones songs rather than reflect the reality, but it was effective nonetheless.
• The change in narrative pace created by an overlaid song drowning out the dialogue such as when Frank vigilantly waited for John to visit Jeannie or at the end of this episode as Billy gunned down the coppers and afterwards as Frank fears that John was one of the victims was horribly realised.

What was bad about it?
• Because so much of the plot followed Frank around like a lovesick puppy, there was little time to colour in the other protagonists Billy (Mel Raido) and Tony (Steven Robertson), and while both were well acted, some of their actions were baffling or to build up the roles of peripheral characters, such as Billy’s mother Lily (Maureen Lipman) or Julian (James Dreyfus) who were little more than acknowledging waves from a passing car.
• Billy had already been bluntly portrayed as a thug and a bully in a botched raid on a bookmaker, but it still came as a shock when he mercilessly murdered three policemen in cold blood. If there were intimations of his stupidity earlier on such actions would have been more credible, but to commit an act of murder when the police were asking questions almost as a way of killing time rather than with any interrogative menace seemed absurd.
• Tony the journalist appeared to be a meek, repressed homosexual yet inexplicably when he was propositioned in a toilet, Tony strangled him until he lay gasping in a cubicle as the rest of the country celebrated England’s World Cup victory, as if also suggesting that gay people uniformly don’t like football.

Aired Sunday 23 March 2008

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