As longterm readers of HU know, I refuse to pay for cable and generally rely on Amazon and Netflix instead. This sometimes results in rather unfortunate viewing experiences, but this time, I was caught up, rapt, watching episode after episode, grumbling fiercely when the disk arrived a day later than expected and ordering whole seasons on Amazon with reckless abandon.
But why, you might ask, has this show seized the (ultra picky) Vom by the heart and held on?
Because it is good. Really, really good.
The premise of the show is this: An up and coming cop named Sandra Pullman is put in charge of a small squad (called UCOS) of retired ex-coppers. They take on old and unsolved cases, working for the police but coloring a little outside the lines.
There’s Sandra, who has given up her life to be a copper, a beautiful woman in a man’s world where they expect her to serve the coffee and get patted on the butt. She’s very alone. I love Sandra like burning. She is also a very dominant woman–in the pilot, there’s a small brawl and you get to see Sandra punch several people out. She’s stuck heading this team because she’d been on a big case and then screwed up publicly. The brass reassigned her in a kind of lose-lose way–if she screwed up again, no big deal, you’re fired. If she succeeded, they could take the credit for a new, exciting initiative. The political machinations inside the police force (and in other aspects of life) is a major theme of the show. Sandra uses modern police methods (DNA testing, forensics, modern procedures) and has a very honorable, rule-following nature, as well as being tough and no-nonsense. She is my very favorite. She also happens to be smoking hot, which is a bonus. My goodness she looks good when she glares. *insert happy little VM sigh here*
There are three retired ex-coppers
There’s Gerry, who loves good food, gambling, and the pleasures of the earth. He has three ex-wives and many daughters–he’s a bit of a chauvinist and most of the force assume he’s bent as a corkscrew, but he has more morals than most people, even if he sometimes screws up. A bit Yohji-ish at times, if Yohji was paunchy and balding slightly. He’s still friends with all his ex-wives and they all have dinner together, visit him in flocks at his bedside when he’s in hospital, and generally make his life….interesting. When his loved ones get ill, he cooks at them. (I can totally relate to this, as I have a strong urge to make casseroles, pies, or soup at people.)
There’s Brian Lane, who is neurotic as a shaved weasel and probably has more brainpower than the average building full of supercomputers. He reminds me a little of the Pookster, actually. He’s twitchy and sensitive, very smart, and kind of crazy. But he is also the empathetic of them and has a way with witnesses that sometimes makes me cry. He’s so gentle and kind, it’s hard to watch. He can be tough, too, but he feels very deeply. He is a recovering alcoholic and is deeply devoted to his wife, Esther, who takes good care of him, and to his dogs, first Scruffy and then Scampi.
Finally, there’s Jack Halford, who is Sandra’s old boss. He’s the hard hitting Sam Vimes-ish character. Brilliant at understanding how people work, he can get results when everyone else fails. He knows people from way back and he’s quite tough. He worked in internal affairs, investigating bent coppers for a while. One his mottos from the pilot is: do you want to get results or do you want to look nice. Jack is also a drinker and is deeply devoted to his dead wife. He spends a certain amount of time sitting at her grave (in their back garden) drinking and talking to her. She (silently) often provides the insights he needs.
All three of the ex-coppers are cynical bastards and I love them for it. They’re Very Nearly Criminals quite frequently. They lie, cheat, and make shit up. They gamble (Gerry), drink like a fish (Jack), and act crazy (Brian). One of the recurring in-jokes on the show is that they all record their conversations on secret tape recorders, which is against the law. But only if you’re police, they like to gleefully point out.
It drives Sandra nuts. They drive Sandra nuts.
But their encyclopedic knowledge of the criminals active in London and environs over the past decades, combined with their sneaky minds, gives them the ability to solve cases that have been dead and buried for thirty years.
The show is like any mystery TV series–one case per episode, but unlike some of the lesser shows, it continues to develop characters and themes over the course of the series, and also unlike American TV most of the time, criminals or others policemen or family members continue to show up from time to time, as appropriate. Over several seasons, the mystery of who hurt Jack’s wife is solved, although the mystery of what happened to the man Brian Lane was watching on his last active case for the police never is. Some of the mysteries do not end happily–the criminals get away, or the cops have their hands tied by procedure.
What’s so wonderful is that both sides of them, the modern tough Sandra and the cynical old men, learn from each other. They care for each other, each others’ families (what’s left of them after being coppers drives people apart), and they create their own little family.
The mysteries themselves are generally clever and unexpected. Since it’s a British show, the seasons are quite short, but there are eight seasons so far and they’ve begun working on a ninth. Highly recommended.