After seeing the news that the licence fee will be frozen and potentially axed, the screenwriter Jack Thorne wrote an impassioned defence of the BBC – comparing the public service broadcaster to streaming services. The latter don’t come out well, as Thorne declares that they prioritise reach over representation (‘if I want to see a portrait of my country, I know I’m unlikely to get it there’).
That's why great BBC series like The Responder – the new Liverpudlian police drama penned by former bobby Tony Schumacher – shouldn't be taken for granted in these uncertain times. The series takes risks in empathising with a dodgy copper, settling into a refreshing sea of Scouse accents, and examining some of the darkest crevices in the country. It's among the best shows to air this January.
Said dodgy copper Chris (Freeman) drives around Liverpool and responds to 999 calls. Oxymoronically, each call becomes mundanely strange. He clears away dog owners, drug addicts and drunk vicars, growing more and more disillusioned by the whole business. He sometimes looks like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, but without the dreary voiceover.
This isn’t great for the nervous breakdown Chris is staring at: his entire face is grey and carved with anxieties. Being calm is no longer an option. He slaps and threatens those in the street, even resorting to violence. He drinks soup made for a recently deceased pensioner. And he has an arrangement with local dealer Carl (Ian Hart) for regular info.
But after promising to his wife (MyAnna Buring) that he’ll sort himself out, he decides to come good. The young and wayward heroin-addict Casey (Emily Fairn) is running from Carl after stealing a lot of his cocaine. And instead of arresting her or taking her to Carl, Chris helps her escape.
Emily Fairn as Casey. Photo: BBC
Freeman grabs the role and pushes it hard, absorbing you with the alacrity of a police siren. You wonder how Chris stuffs his anxiety and depression so deep, especially when many aren’t all that sympathetic. When he’s given counselling for crying on the job, he talks about his family and points to his head, saying" ‘I can’t show them this – I love them too much’.
It’s conceivable that this character was written for Stephen Graham, especially after Shane Meadows’ The Virtues, but a Freeman performance is never half-baked. Every emotion, every gesture is filled with buried reasons.
Although you’re asked to empathise with Chris’s situation – panic attacks, marriage breaking down, mother dying in a care home he can’t afford – he’s certainly not an aspirational saviour. This becomes clearer when he’s partnered with the regulatory newbie officer Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo), who’s all theory and no practice. When she sees the sordid realities of the job, mixed with horrors at home, her clearly defined and politically correct sense of good begins to crack.
The Responder is an intense moral drama as much as a Safdie Brothers-like criminal caper. Schumacher occasionally overloads the series with dense subplots, but they add to the violent haze of Chris’s problems. It’s a dark, thoughtful, and often funny series that bends around the many contradictory aspects of human behaviour. A gritty triumph.
The Responder airs on Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 January at 9pm on BBC One.
|What||The Responder, BBC One review|
24 Jan 22 – 24 Jan 23, ON BBC ONE
25 Jan 22 – 25 Jan 23, ON BBC ONE
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