Saturday 17 March 2018

Last Night’s TV: Traffic Blues

Diarmuid Doyle’s discovers TV’s equivalent of watching paint dry

Diarmuid Doyle

It’s not clear where Law & Order: UK scriptwriters get their plotlines from, but it’s a fair bet they’ll never be inspired by Traffic Blues, RTE’s fly on the windscreen view of the garda traffic corps.

The English version of the US franchise returned for a fifth series last night with a watchable enough episode about unexplained deaths at a hospital. Meanwhile, over on RTE, Garda Helen and Garda Gavin stopped a lorry that looked to be in bad shape (“it’s a holy show”, the driver admitted), but actually turned out to be roadworthy enough. It was allowed to go on its way.

Law and Order suffers from a similar problem to Heartbeat, another Sunday night staple on ITV: you spend so much time working out where you’ve seen all the actors before that the show is nearly over by the time you fully engage with the plot.

Look, there’s Bradley Walsh from Coronation St. And is that Freeman Agyeman from Doctor Who? Your man looks very like Pater Davison from All Creatures Great and Small? (Actually, all three have been in Doctor Who). And is that James Fox? I thought he was dead.

It’s based very closely on its US parent, and its two offshoots Law & Order: SVU and Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Scenes are introduced in the same way, with a brief musical motif, and a description of the place, date and time that the action is happening. Many of the scripts are based on US episodes.

It’s an odd feeling for fans of the US series to go from these familiar sights and sounds, which are usually followed by a scene set in New York or in a busy police station, to a more laidback, English scene, where everybody’s just a little more detached and ironic than their US counterpart. Sometimes, it does feel like Heartbeat, with added skulduggery.

Bradley Walsh, who plays the main poilce officer, Ronnie Brooks, is far removed from Danny Baldwin, the charmingly cheeky chancer he played in Coronation Street. He’s a more world-weary and cynical figure, although occasionally you expect him to flash his winning grin and say: “go on luv, make us a nice cup of tea and tell us whodunnit”.

Jamie Bamber, who plays his sidekick Matt Devlin, is convincing as a reliable straight-shooter. Harriet Walter, as their boss Natalie Chandler, does a decent turn in a show that doesn’t really have any meaty female roles.

Like the US original, the UK version has plenty of twists and turns – last night’s episode featured a chiropodist passing himself off as a hospital doctor and an alcoholic consultant – but it suffers from a lack of resources. There are few enough external shots, and it’s all very deskbound and claustrophobic. It’s decent Sunday night viewing, but no more than that.

Traffic Blues could be rechristened Law & Order: Mighty Craic Altogether. It has the feel of a show that might have been put together by a few well-resourced guards to show their mammies what they do and to reassure them that they’re not in any danger at all.

I’m sure that’s not true, and that many gardai bravely risk injury every day of the week, but you get no sense of that from Traffic Blues.

As well as the lorry that turned out to be roadworthy, last night’s episode featured the arrest of a man for drink driving (he was later fined €100) and the seizure of a vehicle from a driver who didn’t have insurance.

There was also a car chase in Dundalk, during which a handbag stealer in what looked like a clapped out Ford Fiesta tried to make it to the border before he was stopped by the gardai. He failed. “It was a good day for the guards all round”, one officer said.

Unfortunately, the programme makers weren’t actually in the chasing car, so we learned about the pursuit only through garda footage and the subsequent accounts of the two officers on board, who sounded like they were giving evidence in court.

It was the closest thing to drama in the whole programme, but it was like watching paint dry.

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