I'm not a big fan of police procedurals -- unless they offer something a little different to the formula, or have something extra to entice me into watching (see: Dexter, Life On Mars and The Wire.) Law & Order is a US crime-drama that's been on air since 1990 -- and has so far spawned numerous spin-offs (Special Victims Unit, Criminal Intent, Crime & Punishment, Conviction, Trial By Jury) and a French adaptation (Paris enquêtes criminelles). There are even video-games! Well, now you can add Law & Order: UK to the list...
This will be brief, as I have no intention to keep watching this series. That's not a total slur on its quality, but L&O:UK didn't really elicit a strong enough response in me. Showrunner Chris Chibnall (Torchwood) has adapted some early US scripts and Anglicized them accordingly, but this was an odd choice for an opener -- the anemic story of a dead black baby found in a hospital's grounds. Too much of a downer, not enough pep. Early on, it began irritating me with the overuse of a visual trick: the screen thudding to black and displaying a location/date legend very briefly. Too briefly. Days passed in the investigation according to the sluglines, but it was difficult to keep track of that fact. A simple "two days later" would have been preferable to "14 January", as I had forgotten what the previous time-stamp said.
"More haste, less speed" was a phrase I think the writers need to embrace. This episode certainly had the appearance of efficiency and pace, but it took a full hour to tell a story that could have been told in half the time. It was never truly boring, but it never really got your pulse racing, or made you care about the infanticide at its core.
Our heroes are detectives Ronnie Brooks (Bradley Walsh) and Matt Devlin (Jamie Bamber), and a feature of the series is how their police work marries to the legal side of things -- personified by prosecutors James Steel (Ben Daniels) and Alesha Phillips (Freema Agyeman), who grapple with shady Robert Ridley QC (Patrick Malahide). It's an interesting cast, and the main reason I tuned in for L&O:UK's first episode. Walsh is best-known as a family entertainer and gameshow host who only recently turned his hand to straight acting (in Coronation Street), Bamber is recognizable to sci-fi fans as Lee Adama in Battlestar Galactica (where he plays American so convincingly that it felt odd to hear an English accent coming out of his mouth here), and Agyeman found fame for a relatively soft role as Doctor Who companion Martha Jones.
I actually found the performances quite good, particularly Walsh and Bamber as a duo, although everyone felt at the mercy of the script and didn't get many big opportunities to put across their personalities. There was the mild feeling of everything running along on rails, hitting moments, going through the motions -- with little personality coursing through its veins.
Anyway, I'm going to turn this over to readers with more interest in police procedurals in general, and L&O in particular. So, what's your feeling? Is the British version shaping up to be a worthwhile addition to the L&O canon, or did it leave you decidedly unmoved? This is quite an important show for ITV -- who used to excel at this kind of drama in the '80s and '90s, but have lost their way recently. Is adapting a long-running US phenomenon a good idea for them? Or did it just sit wrong for you? Have you seen the US episode this was based on? Did it compare well, or was it a pale imitation? Is this our payback for ABC's Life On Mars?
23 February 2009 ITV1, 9pm
Writer: Chris Chibnall Director: Omar Madha
Cast: Bradley Walsh (Ronnie Brooks), Jamie Bamber (Matt Devlin), Harriet Walter (Natalie Chandler), Ben Daniels (James Steel), Freema Agyeman (Alesha Phillips), Bill Paterson (George Castle), Patrick Malahide (Robert Ridley QC), Lorraine Ashbourne (Maureen Walters), Tony Maudsley (Mike Turner), Venetia Campbell (Dionne Farrah), Michelle Asante (Leona Collins), Gillian McCutcheon (Judge Blake), Angela Terence (Serena Jackson), Louise Howells (Anna Shorofsky), Nicholas Blane (Oswald Spear), Babou Ceesay (Daniel Matoukou), Mark Roper (Parker), Amanda St John (Lucas), Andrew Pritchard (James), Alison Lintott (Evans), Geoffrey Burton (White), Louise Ford (Sharon), Angela Sims (Angie), Angelo Andreou (Kostas), Genevieve Allenbury (Mrs Stavrou), Cally Lawrence (Mrs Jackson), John MacKay (Lindford), Sarah Flind (Sarah), Joan Hodges (Mrs Murphy), Jane Jeffrey (Clarke), Barbara Joslyn (Harris), William Brand (Martin Stanton), Michael O'Connor (Albert Norman), Iarla McGowan (Lampton), Rupert Farley (Charlie Dias) & Alexander Perkins (SOCO)