Though the pilot first aired in February, this Wednesdayth, Babylon the hour-long police dramedy from Academy Award Winner, Danny Boyle, finally has its official series premiere on Channel Four. The show follows the Metropolitan Police, as you haven’t seen them before. Described by Boyle as a “cop show without detectives,” Babylon splits its’ time between lesser-known and underappreciated departments within Scotland Yard. Most notably amongst the overlooked is the Office of Communications, otherwise recognised as public relations, which is run by a consummate outsider, an American by the name of Liz Garvey, played by Sundance Film Festival favourite Brit Marling.
Headlined by Marling and the immensely talented James Nesbitt, who leads this band of crazy as the cheeky-but-tough Commissioner Miller, the show boasts a massive ensemble of sixteen named characters, of which all are put to use throughout the show’s hour-long time slot. Babylon is an anomaly not only because of its carefully executed balance of comedy and drama, but also because it brings comedy back to the one hour format, something that hasn’t existed on television since the likes of Desperate Housewives and Pushing Daisies graced the airwaves.
Boyle, who directs the pilot episode and serves as a series creator, proves to be the right man for the job, as his experience directing films like Trainspotting enable him to successfully toe the line between hilarity and drama. This battle of contrasts proves prevalent throughout the show, as it constantly asks the audience to question its motives. The show makes this obvious, as a Private Security Officer and a Deputy Police Commissioner struggle to decide if, “it’s a riot or a disturbance,” when talking about a skirmish breaking out inside one of the prison facilities. It’s impossible to categorise and that’s what makes Babylon so damn fun. At the end of the day, it never reveals if it’s a comedy or a drama, if it’s political or apolitical, or if it’s about the police or about public relations.
The first episode bounces between narratives, with independent departments dealing with separate crises, from the aforementioned prison “riots” to the challenges of ordering pizza as a group. But it seems to move seamlessly from story to story, filling its one-hour run time with relative ease. The one misstep for the show may be in sexualising the relationship between Nesbitt’s Commissioner Miller and Marling’s Liz Garvey. Babylon is bound to offer every eligible man in its ensemble the chance to win the affections of the beautiful Garvey; it doesn’t need her boss to make a pass as well.
The struggle for Babylon may prove to be in its design. The fate of this series will ultimately rely on the writer’s and director’s ability to maintain the sometimes-difficult tone, as finding the right balance may prove tough to sustain. But the show has a talented cast from top to bottom and promises to never ever be boring. It’s worth a watch.
Babylon premieres November 13th on Channel Four.