SEEMS I’m in the minority after the Line of Duty finale. I really liked the bittersweet, won-the-battle-but-lost-the-war ending Jed Mercurio gave us.
On Sunday night, though, most of Twitter appeared to be united in finding it a massive disappointment.
The main gripe appears to be that the elusive H, the “fourth man” in the chain of police corruption, turned out not be some devious, all-powerful criminal mastermind, but grubby, greedy Ian Buckells.
I can understand people’s frustration at not getting the kind of payoff they’d hoped for. But Buckells’ reverse-ferret revelation that the OCGs, and not the bent coppers, were the ones that ordered all those murders (journalist Gail Vella’s excepted) made sense.
Line of Duty is a thriller, not a documentary. Still, its depiction of institutionalised police corruption arguably comes closer to the reality than any cop show before it.
If you watched BBC2’s excellent three-part series Bent Coppers: Beyond the Line of Duty, about the rampant corruption in the London Met in the 1970s, you’ll know it featured more real-life Ian Buckells types than you could pelt with brown envelopes of cash.
Before series like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, The Wire and The Shield started to show all police officers as fallible, and a good number as corrupt and racist, simplistic American cop shows approached the issue of police corruption in one of two ways: either it was limited to the usual “few bad apples”, or it simply didn’t exist.
The earliest cop show to portray the police as virtuous, incorruptible upholders of the law was producer-star Jack Webb’s Dragnet, which originally ran from 1951 to 1959, and again in a colour revival from 1967 to 1970.
Webb, who played the stick-up-his-backside Sgt Joe Friday, made an extraordinary deal with LAPD chief William Parker. In return for the generous use of LAPD cars, equipment and even real officers as extras, in order to give Dragnet the illusion of realism, Webb gave the LAPD complete control over the scripts, every one of which had to be approved by the department’s Public Information Division.
If there was an episode the LAPD didn’t like, it was either rewritten or scrapped, thus ensuring the cops were always shown in a glowingly positive light.
For his series The FBI (1965- 74), super-producer Quinn Martin struck a similarly subservient deal with the Bureau’s monstrous boss J Edgar Hoover. Every script had to be vetted by Hoover’s second-in-command, Clyde Tolson, and every actor who appeared was subjected to a background check.
While no TV producer would submit to that kind of outrageous censorship today, Dragnet nonetheless has a spiritual successor in the awful Blue Bloods, starring big, boring Tom Selleck as Frank Reagan, the preachy, self-righteous Irish-American NYPD Commissioner and patriarch of a family of cops.
In the black-and-white — but mostly white — world of Blue Bloods, the cops are all unimpeachable straight arrows, incapable of corruption or, lord preserve us, racism.
Strange, that, because the series frequently shows people of colour to be dishonest, devious and malicious toward white cops.
In one episode, a Black man throws himself from a third storey window and then cries “police brutality!” against Frank’s son. In another, a Latina character removes a gun from a crime scene to make it look like a white cop has shot an unarmed Black man.
No sane person would consider Blue Bloods true to life. It’s funny, however, what was once regarded as realistic.
Back in the day, 1970s British cop show The Sweeney was hailed as a grittier, more honest depiction of modern policing.
Flying Squad detectives Jack Regan and George Carter were flawed heroes who sometimes bent the rules to catch the bad guys, but they hated bent coppers even more than villains.
Ironically, The Sweeney went out at a time when the real Flying Squad was deeply corrupt.
Speaking of iconic 70s cop shows, am I the only one who wondered how the bulletheaded hero of Kojak could afford those flashy suits with satin-backed waistcoats when his superior, Captain McNeil, dressed like he shopped in charity stores?
Was Theo — gasp! — secretly on the take?