Critic’s Chair: Guy Somerset’s had a sneak preview of Episode 1 of Season 6 of Line of Duty, and is not disappointed
The police corruption drama has become so beloved in its native Britain – or else the dearth of fresh TV has become so pronounced during lockdown – that Line of Duty’s return to the country’s screens a week or so back was welcomed with only marginally less euphoria than the start of Covid-19 vaccinations.
During its nine-year run, Line of Duty’s consistent critical acclaim and viewer popularity saw it promoted from Britain’s more niche BBC2 channel to primetime BBC1; now, finally, New Zealand is following suit, with the show’s sixth and latest season screening from tomorrow night on TVNZ 1.
Line of Duty’s free-to-air debut, a mere two or three episodes behind British screenings, is truly an huzzah moment for us die-hard fans. (I’ve been chomping at the bit for weeks for an excuse to slip in that link.)
Over the past nine years, we have had to endure the twin frustrations of screenings arriving months or even years after Britain and then only with a Sky subscription (at times not even with their basic package). Often we had to rely on waiting for the show to be released on DVD and buying it from Amazon.co.uk (pre-GST when Amazon.co.uk still deigned to deliver to New Zealand).
For some shows, this would be less of an issue. But the plots of Line of Duty are so tortuously twisty-turny, and so closely followed by British media, you can’t afford to stumble upon spoilers while reading about an alarming snippet of climate change research on the Guardian website or the latest Wagatha Christie revelations in the Daily Mail.
Spotting even the most fleeting reference to the show or its stars in the corner of your eye as you scrolled down web pages risked ruin and avoiding doing so became an art-form in itself.
Admittedly, Line of Duty packs so much into a single episode that being even a few weeks behind has its risks, but the chances of blowing it are a lot less when the danger zone is not lasting what feels like forever.
For the uninitiated, Line of Duty revolves around the acronym-heavy activities of AC-12, a fictional anti-corruption squad based in the British Midlands and capable of going entire sentences without uttering a recognisable word, preferring instead in-speak that might at any time include CHIS, AFO, CIS, DIR, MIT, OCG, PNC, SIO, UCO … you get the MO. And that’s only some of them.
The acronyms are half the fun (and are amply explained in any number of newspaper and other internet articles prompted by the new season).
The other language highlight is the many fruity expressions of the squad’s Northern Irish leader, Ted Hastings (“like the battle”, played by Adrian Dunbar).
“Mother of God” and “fella” are his most-used sayings. But then there are the more recherché offerings such as “We’ve been round the houses … round the houses and down the drains”, “I was beginning to feel a wee bit like the ginger stepchild” and “None of my people would plant evidence, they know I’d throw the book at them, followed by the book shelf”.
Again, capturing these is a popular pastime of British media and other pockets of the internet. If you are up to date with the show, revel again in some of them in this YouTube compilation. If you are not up to date, steer well clear until you have watched the first five seasons on Netflix.
Because, as much as Line of Duty is built on the performances of Dunbar, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure as his off-siders Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming, and a starry revolving cast of investigated officers (Lennie James, Keeley Hawes, Daniel Mays, Thandie Newton, Stephen Graham and for season six Kelly Macdonald), its brilliance and compulsive appeal lies in the often bonkers convolutions of creator and writer Jed Mercurio’s storylines.
As a former cast member said in a recent interview, everything means something in a Mercurio script. He has created a paranoiac’s dream world of unpredictability and overarching conspiracy.
The remains of a character killed off in one season might appear in the freezer of another character in a later season. A seemingly pivotal character might be killed off in a season opener (Mercurio is, after all, the writer of Bodyguard, with its Keeley Hawes-dispatching fourth episode). A lippy boy crim on a bike in season one might re-emerge many years later and older.
You can’t take your eyes off the screen for a moment. You can’t let a single line of dialogue drift by. (Even if it is impenetrably dense with acronyms.) And the reverse of this is you can’t give a single line or screen moment away without spoiling the plot.
I was privileged enough to see the first episode of season six in advance. Fellow fans will know how exciting this would have been. But, really, TVNZ needn’t have bothered, because there is so little I can tell you without revealing too much.
Suffice to say, Macdonald’s enigmatic Detective Chief Inspector Joanne Davidson is a worthy new foil for the squad, there is another of the show’s many exhilaratingly scored police raid sequences, and Dunbar, Compston and McClure are all in top form.
We have yet to have one of AC-12’s patented interview room scenes, which have lifted this police procedural staple to such a level that it has inspired spoofs and even, arguably, an entire Netflix series of its own in Criminal.
A friend recently remarked that he didn’t think he’d be watching the new season of Line of Duty because with the last one it had jumped the shark.
Mother of God, fella, I didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble.
It’s because of its very jumped-the-shark over-the-topness that most of us who have seen it can’t get enough of Line of Duty.
Line of Duty (season six episodes screen weekly on TVNZ 1 from Sunday 4 April, with the season in its entirety available afterwards on TVNZ OnDemand; seasons one to five are available on Netflix).