I love a good cop show, so I was really excited by the prospect of the new BBC drama Blue Lights, which you can stream on iPlayer. Early reviews suggested that the Belfast-based drama could be as good as iPlayer, so that made it a must-watch for me.
The BBC has a bit of a patchy track record when it comes to police dramas. The Aberdeen-set Granite Harbour, which the BBC appears to have spent huge sums promoting if the billboards round my way were any indication, was laughably bad – and my tolerance for bad cop dramas is very high, so to have me turning off in disgust is quite an achievement. But it also made the peerless Happy Valley, one of the best TV shows full stop.
So I'm delighted to say that Blue Lights is much closer to the likes of Happy Valley or Line of Duty than some of its less spectacular shows. I binged all six episodes over the last couple of days and found it warm, gripping and towards the end, absolutely devastating.
What is Blue Lights about?
Blue Lights is set in present day Belfast, and it follows a group of rookie police officers in the frontline response division. Although it spends time with all the key characters, the heart of the show is Grace Ellis, played by the superb Sian Brooke. Grace may be a rookie but she's hardly wet behind the ears: aged 41 with a long social work career behind her, she's an idealist who quickly discovers that front line police work, particularly in Belfast, often puts pragmatism over idealism.
There's lots to like about this show. Sian Brooke is wonderful, and you could easily imagine her as a younger version of Catherine Cawood from Happy Valley: not quite so cynical, not yet, but trying to hang on to her humanity and idealism in a job where both are sorely tested.
Grace's fellow rookie, Annie (Katherine Devlin), comes from a community where the police are not always considered friendly and has to make serious sacrifices to protect her self. And Tommy (Nathan Braniff) seems too nice, too academic, too gentle to make it as a cop, something his charismatic partner Gerry (Richard Dormer, bursting with charm and often very funny) finds endlessly frustrating.
The entire cast is superb, and the writing is very sharp: I think the creators (Adam Patterson and Declan Lawn, who previously made The Salisbury Poisonings) had a lot of fun here. One episode homages the legendary film Rashomon, while throughout the series the writers seem to take great delight setting up expectations and then subverting them, and you'll have a very different view of the characters at the end of the series than you do in the first few episodes. They feel like real people, not cut-out cops from central casting, and when things get dark – and they get very, very dark – it's a viscer