Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Bill, ITV1

Today's our fifteenth wedding anniversary, so we're off for a day of jollification in the West End! Hurrah!

Anyway, here's a preview of the new post-watershed version of The Bill that I've written for Orange:

I've not watched The Bill for a while now. The last I remember, Tucker Jenkins/Mark Fowler had turned up and was trying to get off with his mum – or something. Anyway, I guess I'm exactly the sort of viewer the producers are looking to lure back with their reinvention of the show as a gritty post-watershed weekly drama.

However, the new filmy look – starting with two of Sun Hill's finest cruising the mean streets of East London, Taxi Driver-style – takes a bit of adjusting to, as if your Uncle Derek suddenly started wearing a white Saturday Night Fever suit and talking in a Brooklyn accent.

Anyway, while out on patrol, Sergeant Stone (Sam Callis) and PC Gayle (Micah Balfour) find a badly beaten teenager. As CID turn up and the investigation starts, a suspicious-looking youth, Ollie Readshaw (Jazz Litott), panics and runs away. The chase ends badly when Ollie runs in front of a lorry and is killed.

Ollie's behaviour makes him the key suspect for the brutal assault, and DI Neil Manson (Andrew Lancel) has to gain the trust of the dead boy's grieving semi-alcoholic mother to get closer to the truth. Meanwhile, family liaison officer DC Jacob Banks (Patrick Robinson) senses that the victim's young brother knows more about the attack than he is letting on.

After the stylish opening, the show becomes a bit pedestrian, with a lot of people sitting around in rooms telling each other stuff. It doesn't help that the cast don't have much charisma, either (although Julia Ford, seen recently as vengeful nurse Maureen in Shameless, steals the show as Debbie, Ollie's angry but fragile mother).

Despite the revamp, the show still seems quite worthy. It plays more like the BBC's daytime drama Doctors than the "darker, grittier and more hard-hitting" show its creators were promising. It's hard to see how even the new Bill is going to distinguish itself from perkier newcomers like Law and Order: UK, never mind heavyweight imports like The Shield.

Still, the conclusion of the two-part story is on tomorrow night, so things obviously aren't going to be quite as cut and dried as they appear at the end of the first part, when it seems that the police have got their man. A bit more pace and invention could give the new version of The Bill the jolt it needs.

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