Acclaimed TV writer Paul Abbott has had a hand in other dramas like 2012’s transsexual hitman series, Hit and Miss, starring Chloë Sevigny, but it is over a decade since he created his landmark hit Shameless.
Much like Steptoe and Son or Only Fools and Horses, Shameless was a generation-defining class comedy, so successful that it has become a kind of shorthand for describing feckless behaviour in deprived circumstances.
Those missing the series' dramatic intensity, salty humour and larger-than-life characters like Frank Gallagher will welcome Abbott’s new work, No Offence. While most of the cast of Shameless spent a good part of their time trying to outwit the law, No Offence jumps across the legal divide to a Manchester police department headed by the matriarchal DI Vivienne Deering (the ever-superb Joanna Scanlan).
These cops are as filthily funny and morally compromised as the residents of Shameless’s Chatsworth estate. Abbott, who has bipolar disorder and once went to see a hypnotist to try and stop ideas proliferating in his head, creates TV that looks like a Bruegel painting, bursting with a kind of ugly yet eviscerating cheek-by-jowl intensity that can at first feel overwhelming.
No detail is left unembellished. Within the opening minutes, DC Dinah Kowalska (Elaine Cassidy) has thrown her boyfriend out of a taxi, crutches first, before giving chase to a suspect who is not just run over but has his head graphically crushed under a bus. Then, for fun, she visits an autopsy where the head of a women and dog have been fused in a motorway pile-up. The crash, it transpires, came about because the driver’s Jack Russell jumped into her lap to steal the Maltesters she was eating; she also suffered stomach problems from injesting dog semen.
In Abbott’s hands, nothing is too much. And although much of the action in the station occurs in the lavatories, what saves No Offence from being exhaustingly grotesque are its underlying warmth and humanity – and punchlines that come straight from stand-up comedy.
When Kowlaska and Deering are interrogating a teenager high on drugs about whether her parents flew on holiday with Ryanair or Easyjet, the girl replies, “Easyjet. Dad’s been phobic about trumpets since Afghanistan.”
Abbott’s ambitions and empathy for the police force are tangible, but he also continues to embrace communities on the margins of society. When it looks like a serial killer is targeting women with Down’s syndrome, rather than tack on the disability to add novelty value to the victims, Abbott uses it to foreground the prejudices around sex and intelligence that face those with the condition. And much like Shameless, the concept of family is still at the heart of how the characters relate to each other.
Certain crime show clichés persist – forensics yet again hold the magic key that can unlock any case – and Abbott’s style has been copied so often that its shock value has diminished over time. But overall, No Offence is pacy and provocative, while still emotionally deep enough to make you care.
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