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Monday, October 12, 2020

The Atlantic: Why British Police Shows Are Better

  

In The Atlantic:

British series [have] a greater sense of control, of order, relative to the urban chaos that prevails on American television....   

Everyone weaned on American cop dramas, for instance, knows the right way to approach a door behind which a suspect might be waiting: His gun drawn, an officer stands to one side before knocking and declaring himself loudly. The anticipation of violence is so primal that it dominates almost every interaction that involves the police. In your typical British police show, by contrast, a visit to a suspect can resemble a social errand, as unarmed detectives wait patiently in front of a door after ringing the bell. The absence of gunfire—and, more important, of concern about the possibility of gunfire—almost invariably leads to more actual detective work.

- Why British Police Shows Are Better <https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/why-british-police-shows-are-better/616479/>

Shows mentioned:

  • Broadchurch
  • Happy Valley
  • Hinterland
  • The Loch
  • Prime Suspect
  • River
  • Shetland
  • Unforgotten
  • Vera
  • The Wire

42 comments:

  1. Yes, my wife and I watch many of those shows, and they are enjoyable for that aspect among others. We lived in London for four years, and knowing that the police couldn't accidentally or purposely shoot anyone in an ordinary interaction made a difference. U.S. police are depersonalized in both directions by their weaponry. Citizens, especially those of color, can find it hard to view them as people, and officers often consider themselves to be apart from those they're meant to serve and protect.

    On a lighter note, British crime dramas can simply be great fun, particularly the silly sort like "Death in Paradise" and "New Tricks." Murder as a pretext for social-strata friction and invigorating cleverness. Nice way to spend an hour.

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    1. I would add Midsomer Murders to the lighter note category. If it were a real place, I think the population would have been killed off by now.

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  2. What timing! I’m watching "Midsomer Murders" as I'm reading this blog. Of course, the minute it came on, I knew exactly who the victims were and who the murderer was because I've seen it so many times. But did I turn it off? NO! I love British murder mysteries. They've properly spoiled me and I don’t care for American murder mysteries.

    I enjoyed the article and wanted to add one thing - British detectives tend to interview people using low volume, calm and polite voices. And they say "Sir" to the grizzliest creatures. Gotta love it!

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    1. ...... and Luther , which MUST be watched IN ORDER without reading anything about it ( for those who've never seen the 4 seasons ) !

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    2. The quality of the scripts and acting in Endeavour have declined recently, possibly due to Sean Evans's direction. I feel sorry for Roger Allam (as Fred Thursday) who must cringe with embarrassment.

      Midsomer Murders is now dreadful with ridiculous woke storylines, awful casting and bad acting. Incredibly, Neil Dudgeon has become even more smug and glib than ever. Bring back John Nettles and Brian True-May as executive producer!

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  4. With all due respect to the all-time great "Inspector Morse", "Shetland" has been my favorite program since its inception. As for American police dramas, I must mention "Law and Order: Criminal Intent" for its faithful adherence to "procedural" structure.

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  5. Three loosely related thoughts. . . This general difference in styles might possibly be a reflection of how confrontational and violent much of American society has become on various levels. That off my chest, Vera is a current favorite, and I've really enjoyed the others as well although it s always hard to believe that the criminal in Happy Valley was later the first vicar in Grantchester. Morse and its eventual spinoffs are the absolute gold standard of British crime TV in my view.

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

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  6. The original is always hard to beat! Thank you!

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  7. Are American crime shows a reflection of American society or is American society a reflection of American crime shows. Liam Neesom if in favor of gun control except in his high-paying, incredibly violent "action" movies.

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  8. The article's a bit tough to take (apparently a show can't be appreciated for its own sake -- it must also confront social and political issues and offer "heightened sensitivity") but I agree that the British shows are a cut above.

    Our favorite off the list would be Shetland and Douglas Henshall (from the Lewis episode "The Mind Has Mountains"). Unforgotten is right up there too, and has amazing guest stars; as I recall, Tom Courtenay from Season 1 won a BAFTA for his performance and Alex Jennings from Season 3 won one for his. Broadchurch was riveting for the first two seasons until it became a parody of itself. Can't get that interested in Vera.

    The article doesn't mention one trend that I have observed in (many of) these series, and that I admit I find tiresome at times: their hyper-emotionalism. While the piece rightly observes that there is a sort of order and method to these series, the characters also act out emotions in a way that is distinctly against the British stereotype. Wailing, keening, and figurative rending of one's garments with grief -- all a bit over the top, for my taste anyway.

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  9. Might I also suggest Scott and Bailey? It is a police procedural with two female leads, and a female commanding officer. All three characters are very different but all are highly intelligent. The series is written by Sally Wainwright, who also wrote Happy Valley.

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    1. I have watched that too and find it distinctly different from the others -- not necessarily in a bad way. I read an interview with Sally Wainwright in which she was deeply critical of detective shows with sensitive cops who get emotionally involved in their cases or their victims' lives -- which is basically the entire premise of Unforgotten. I like them both. Though I imagine S&B is much more realistic.

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  10. I adore Father Brown.
    it's so wonderfully English.
    or what I hope English is anyway.
    I'm guilty of still thinking Paddington Bear is alive and well. xo

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  11. Medical too. Doc Martin was great. And well Hugh made House...House.

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    1. Doc Martin is my all time favorite! I have binged watched them all two or three times. Martin Clunes is the BEST!!

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  12. Well, with due allowance for telling gripping stories cinematically, the two styles probably reflect the different societies.

    Never forget that the United States was founded by acts of armed revolt against what was then legitimate authority: king and parliament. You might say the social differences in the cop shows was baked-in from the start. And even before the start, if you think about pre-revolutionary life in the colonies, and in particular, the French and Indian War. (Historian Fred Anderson calls this colonial conflict "the war that made America.")

    My take? Americans aren't Britons or Europeans, though many have ancestors from there. This country was founded and built by refugees from Europe mainly, and attempts to gauge our society against some other another land are always going to miss the target.

    We're different, and always have been.

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  13. The old 70s/80s/90s police dramas are good ones to check out. A heady mixture of gritty drama, great locations and regional accents.

    The Sweeney
    Taggart
    Bergerac
    Spender
    A Touch of Frost

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    1. Do you like The Professionals, another favourite from that time, that has been repeated with The Sweeney recently? Gordon Jackson was superb as Major George Cowley and dressed immaculately. His tailor and shirtmaker were excellent.

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  14. I was also a great fan of Foyle's War.

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  15. Don't forget Poirot. It had over two decades of shows.

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    1. I was wondering if someone would mention Poirot. Such a calming show in these very trying times. Wish Poirot and Miss Marple could somehow enter our world and induce some clear thinking. We need more of Poirot’s “little grey cells”!!!!

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    2. Poirot and Miss Marple set the bar. For me personally, all the others are on a rung below these two classic standards. They are my "comfort food" when times are bad.

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    3. Sir David Suchet, belatedly in my opinion, has just been knighted in the Queen's Birthday Honours. I met Phillip Jackson, who played Chief Inspector, in a pub in Richmond-upon-Thames.

      Coincidentally, David Horovitch (who played Chief Inspector Slack in Miss Marple) passed me on his bike yesterday.

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    4. Wow! I would have loved that! Can I ask if you live in Richmond-upon-Thames? I live in Atlanta now but used to live in Arundel, West Sussex, and I only ever saw Oliver Reed in a nearby pub. (Telling my age!)

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    5. Yes. I live in the Royal Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. The river and huge deer parks attract many well-known showbiz people (e.g. actors, comedians and rock stars) who live here. There is also an actors' retirement and care home in West Twickenham.

      Poirot was filmed in Twickenham Studios. A lot of famous television shows were made at Teddington Studios beside the Thames. Sadly, they were recently bulldozed and the site is now occupied by hundreds of apartments.

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  16. I love most of the major Brits (Morse, Foyle, etc). For those into such things, consider watching Doctor Blake, from Australia -- it's as good as the best from the UK or the USA.

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    1. Also from down under are Miss Fisher's Mysteries. She reminds me of Wimsey in a lot of ways. The old PBS Wimseys were marvelous, especially the ones with Ian Carmichael as PDBW.

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  17. How could they leave out the Rowan Atkinson classic, The Thin Blue Line?!

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  18. I had just finished reading the Atlantic article before popping over to the SWNE blog. What are the odds?

    I absolutely love most of these mysteries. Morse, Lewis, Endeavour, Hinterland, Shetland, Broadchurch, Vera and the list goes on. Thank you Britbox & PBS. The Nordic Noir briefly mentioned in the article is a different beast in my opinion but has some appeal.

    JM, VA

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  19. Not a police show or mystery but a great British show: The Detectorists

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    1. ^ I was shattered when I read they are not doing a fourth season of The Detectorists.

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  20. My wife enjoys these but I have trouble understanding the dialogue, not bein a native English speaker (I'm American). While I understand the comments about how we Americans tend to be rather violent at times, these shows are still mostly murder mysteries.

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    1. What is your native language, Blue Train? After years of reading your comments, I would never have guess it wasn't English.

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    2. American, of course. I've been to the U.K. and we definitely do not speak the same language. On the other hand, I sometimes couldn't understand my mother-in-law and she was not only from Lynchburg, Virginia, she even grew up at an Episcopal Boy's School (VES) where he parents were employed.

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  21. Working my way through Midsommer Murders then on to Vera. I hardly watch cable anymore. Thank God for Brit Box, Acorn, and PBS.

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  22. We are all anglophiles here, to be sure, and love to signal our anglophilia. But a word to the wise: if you spend any time in the U.K., tone it down. Brits detest American anglophiles.

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  23. I've always felt that British television in general appealed to a more sophisticated thinker. I quit watching the dumbed-down American version of ' Who Do You Think You Are' as soon as I discovered the UK version. The American version was full of sensationalism and not nearly as educational.

    Lately, my husband and I only watch ( in addition to Acorn and Britbox) old movies from the 30's, 40's, 50's. It's so refreshing to hear Americans speak well and treat each other like ladies and gentlemen.

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  24. Loved the Avengers with the late Diana Rigg and Patrick McNee. The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan was weird but great. More spy or espionage related but still fun.

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  25. I love Shetland. Even the opening credits are fantastic. Henshall is the star in every way but the rest of the cast are very engaging. The scenery is beautiful and haunting and the stories keep you interested. It’s less complicated than Vera but that makes it more watchable, I think.

    Scott and Bailey was just a bit relationship driven for me. Collateral was excellent and the Capture started out well but got stupid once Ron Pearlman showed up. We have dabbled with No Offence but it is a bit corny.

    If you like irreverent comedy, do your self a favour and try Derry Girls.

    David J Cooper

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