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crime pays big in anxious thriller

THIS column doesn't usually cover the same subject twice in less than a week, but let's make an exception for the phenomenal Line of Duty, which reached the end of its second series on Wednesday – and if you still haven't watched it, relax, there are no major spoilers ahead.

The first five episodes were superb, although there was the gnawing fear, as there always is with any drama as riveting as this, that the finale would turn out to be a disappointment.

Having watched and rewatched it, however, "superb" feels like too piddly and inconsequential an adjective to do the final installment justice.

The central mystery – whether DI Lindsay Denton (played by Keeley Hawes) was guilty or innocent – was satisfactorily resolved and also packed more than a few surprises. But since when was anything about Line of Duty ever as cut and dried as it first seemed?

The genius of writer/creator Jed Mercurio's script lay not just in the serpentine plotting, but also in the way it made the audience's sympathies shift from one week to the next, and sometimes even within the space of a single episode.

That tension, that sense of never being sure of anyone's true motives or of how they might be implicated in the conspiracy, was maintained right to the very end.

Virtually every character had a guilty secret of some description that they were desperate to keep from everyone else.

It helped no end, of course, that the series had such a wonderful cast, each of them flawless in their portrayals, at its disposal.

It will be an outrage if, come BAFTA time, they don't finish the night dripping with acting awards the way the women in EastEnders drip with gaudy earrings.

Line of Duty was an extraordinary six hours of television, made all the more remarkable by being the work of a single writer.

The decline of the one-off play means fewer and fewer dramas are built around one author's vision.

You'll search in vain for contemporary equivalents of Dennis Potter, Jack Rosenthal, Alan Bleasdale or Alan Clarke.

These were writers who almost always worked in television and whose scripts were rarely, if ever, altered by others (although both Potter and Clarke had their fair share of brushes with the BBC's self-censors).

The works of writers like Mercurio, Chris Chibnall (Broadchurch) and our own Stuart Carolan (Love/Hate) aside, most drama series are now created by committee.

British broadcasters have largely adopted the American "writers' room" method.

Vince Gilligan is the brains behind Breaking Bad and David Chase the guiding hand of The Sopranos, yet they weren't the sole contributors to the programmes that they put so much into creating.

They were assisted by large pools of fellow writers gathered round a table, blocking out plots and exchanging ideas, before being assigned to write specific episodes.

The only US series to stray from this rigid production formula is True Detective, all eight episodes of which were written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Apparently, next year's second season will revert to the norm and use a team of writers.

Line of Duty's lineage stretches back to earlier single-author drama series such as Paul Abbot's State of Play (2010) and Troy Kennedy Martin's 1985 nuclear-age masterpiece Edge of Darkness – both of which were made by the BBC and also kept viewers on the edges of their seats, week after week.

Maybe there are lessons TV can learn from its past.

crime time: The TV spin-off of Fargo, one of my favourite Coen brothers movies, starts on FX in America next month, arriving here later.

With a cast including Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton, Julie Ann Emery and Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk, plus the Coens as executive producers, this looks promising.

But we'll miss Frances McDormand as police chief Marge Gunderson. Yah, you betcha.

sad sunday: Am I the only one beginning to think that the planning of RTE1's Sunday night primetime schedule consists of someone throwing darts at a board or pulling programme names out of a big hat?

There's no sense of consistency whatsoever from one month to the next. For six Sundays before Christmas we had Love/Hate. And then for three Sundays in February it was Quirke. The lengthy droughts during these dramas were filled with various documentaries, none of which were ideal Sunday night entertainment.

Last Sunday, to mark the annual Paddywhackery Street-Vomiting Festival, we had a one-off show with Imelda May. Tomorrow night it's back into Dragons' Den, with Ramona Nicholas and her fellow Dragons listening to boastful business types blowing more hot air than fire.

Frankly, if that's the kind of thing you like, you might as well just hang out in the Shelbourne Hotel bar.

At least you can numb the pain with alcohol.

point made: BBC1's Pointless is the best quiz show on television. The concept is ingenious and the questions are mostly hard enough to challenge the viewer, but never so hard as to make you feel like Paris Hilton on University Challenge.

In Alexander Armstrong and his sidekick Richard Osman, Pointless has the best quiz show double-act since Richard Whitely and Carol Vorderman on Countdown. If Irish broadcasters insist on copying British channels' franchises, this is a perfect one.


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