Oh dear. Sky One’s big new glossy action drama is pretty awful.
Before I explain why, I will admit that I’m not the target audience for this show. But nevertheless, this show is just all over the place.
Bulletproof is trying to be a 2018-vintage action cop show set in London. Imagine The Sweeney or The Professionals, mixed with the buddy-cop smart dialogue of films like Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys.
You’ve got Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke as the two bodies, their hard nosed boss, their girlfriends and their co-workers. Then you’ve got the baddies in the first episode, some Slavic car thieves (Gone in 60 Seconds?), who are tooled up to the max. Walters and Clarke and co-creators with Nick Love (The Football Factory, The Sweeney (2012)).
From the opening credit sequence, which has big bold graphics, and lots of shots of our heroes in full action mode as if from a 1980s TV show, we know exactly where we are. Or do we?
Very early on, an informer gets murdered in front of them (with some slightly dodgy CGI), and they’re on the tail of the car thieves, starting with a car chase. It’s not entirely clear why heavily armed bad guys would run over an informant right in front of the police, when they could quietly murder her at their own convenience some other time, but let’s not get bogged down with such details right now.
There are, however, instantly massive problems with the script.
The buddy-buddy side of things runs throughout, but having seen a character horrifically murdered in the first few minutes, nobody really seems to care about her much, given everyone gets sidetracked with other japes and tomfoolery. Then someone remembers that they have to catch the criminals because of the senseless murder.
Noel Clarke’s character in particular seems to be the most useless policeman in the Met. He suspects his girlfriend of cheating on him, and rather than paying attention on a stakeout, he broods over who he thinks the culprit is.
Having crashed their car in the chase – well, set off the airbags anyway – they have to get a lift home, and to win over their uniformed colleagues, Clarke’s character says, “Keys, plod,” to the first uniformed official he meets. Yes – I bet that goes down well in the station.
Later, he inadvertently shoots a colleague in the shoulder during another chase. But no worries, he’s soon drinking and joking with Walters at takeaway van somewhere. Only later does he discover that the bullet just missed a major artery. Phew. Especially as they’d disobeyed orders to take on the villains rather than waiting for backup.
Their colleagues actually get captured by the bad guys since they stupidly joined a case conference via a video link while they were staking out the bad guys. I’d have thought that standard procedure when hidden in the bushes is not to distract yourself with Skypeing your colleagues.
And needless to say that Clarke and Walters, when not practising on the gun range, walk around their Met office with their guns in shoulder holsters all the time, because that’s what American cops do. None of this signing them in and out of the armoury for them.
Look, I get what this is trying to be. A big action series with characters who appeal to a younger and more diverse audience. We’re not supposed to take it seriously.
But the tone is just all wrong.
Clarke’s character is miserable throughout, except when he’s on the phone trying to sort out whether to get free-range chicken for their family meal or not. So those scenes jar, even though they feature Clarke Peters no less. The handbrake turns in mood are just wrong. You have to go one way or another. You can have stupid silliness – all the villains having sub machine guns, even though they’re just loading cars onto a container ship – but you have to do that all the way through. The relationship elements just get in the way and feels wrong – particularly as we’re straight into a failing relationship. Don’t overload the episode with backstory – we can learn more about the tricky relationships as we go, not the whole hog in episode one. And especially, only once we know that they’re good at what they do, can we start to emote with them, when their flaws are revealed. In a US series, you know that this would bookend the episode, and not get placed into the middle of the episode.
Mostly importantly, to root for our heroes, we need to see proof early on that these are good cops who are great at their job. Instead, we quickly find out that one of them doesn’t like high speed car chases even though we’re going to get a lot of them in this series. This is a curious characterisation to give one of the leads in an action series anyway. The joke is going to wear thin very quickly.
Why not introduce the characters being really good at their jobs by way of introductions. Sure, it’s a little hackneyed, but it gives you action up front, and shows the viewers that these are good cops who can do the job brilliantly. Coming away from episode one, we more have the feeling that they are utterly useless at what they do, getting their informant killed, their colleagues kidnapped and then shot, ignoring orders and generally endangering the public at large!
The action sequences are fine, although they don’t feel as expensive as they want to feel. Just because you have a drone, it doesn’t make things look automatically glossy. Cars don’t crash during chases – they just end up with a loose boot and deployed airbags.
And although this is firmly set in Laaandaaaan, it seems to have been mostly filmed in Liverpool. Which explains why the locations feel a little off. The Sweeney and The Professionals were firmly shot where they were set. Again, that feels like a bit of cost-saving going on.
First episodes are hard – you have to set up the characters and give us enough of a story to get us hooked, but this missed the goal by a mile.
Big action series aren’t trivial to make. The same channel that showed this also showed A Touch of Cloth. We know the tropes of action series and the police procedural. We’ve seen Hot Fuzz. But most of all, the tone of the world we’re in needs to be consistent, and there simply isn’t the lightness of touch that a series like this needs.