TV Review: Babylon – 4/5

Director:  Danny Boyle

Cast:  James Nesbitt, Brit Marling, Paterson Joseph, Adam Deacon

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Danny Boyle is getting around; Olympic ceremony MC, Oscar Winner, financial backer of Manchester’s new HOME arts project… the list goes ever on, and his fingers grow ever more submerged in pie. New Channel 4 series Babylon  is Mr Boyle’s latest project, and he’s teamed up with Peep Show  writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong to create a hard hitting (and side splitting) satirical police drama.

Babylon  is set within the cradle of the Metropolitan Police PR department, and the events of the boardroom are intercut with a flurry of simultaneous on-the-beat storylines. Rather reminiscent of In the Loop, the show revolves around highlighting the ineptitude of the social sector, something which becomes more and more apparent as you ascend the chain of command. Liz Garvey (Brit Marling) is the didactic American Ted-Talker that gets scouted in to give the London police a public-friendly makeover, but her first day devolves into media pandering mayhem when a lone sniper goes on an indiscriminate rampage. Various British comedy stalwarts pop up all over the place, but Commissioner Richard Miller (James Nesbitt) and Charles Inglis (Paterson Joseph) stand out from the crowd, improvising and bouncing off one another to hilarious end.

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Besides tracing the ramifications of crime from the street to the office, Babylon  also studies topical issues like the solidarity of policing culture, cop incompetence and the ever present glass/ass ceiling of the corporate universe. By throwing a PR film crew into the mix, there’s an excuse for policemen to ‘go off on one’ and vent their views directly to the camera – this happens a lot, with Adam Deacon’s rookie shouting bitter nothings at the viewer with obnoxious aplomb. Not two years ago, Deacon presented an anti-police documentary on BBC Three, and he’s clearly relishing his opportunity to belittle the boys in blue.

Much of the dialogue, especially from the armed police side, strays too far into the ‘yoo slagg’ dimension, but nevertheless there are moments of brilliance. At one stage, the Met commanders are told there is one less shooting victim than previously thought; ‘Oh good, four is much better than five. I mean, five is half of ten!’ Danny Boyle’s direction is smooth, alternating between wide angled panorama and over-the-shoulder kitchen sink action. For a television show, it’s broadly cinematic.

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Annoyingly, this episode is just a pilot (the rest begins shooting next month) so if you’re gripped by this opening chapter then you’ll be clenched up for a while. Word on the street (aka Twitter) is that John S. Baird is going to pair up with Danny Boyle for the remainder of the series. Baird directed Scottish shocker Filth , one of Movie Quibble’s top films in 2013, so you should be looking forward to some good things. Check out the trailer for Babylon  below, and the 40d link beneath that to watch the pilot episode.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/babylon/4od  (full episode)

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