The police drama has become to ITV what the crime novel has long been to James Patterson: a commodity that can be churned out quickly and with the sole aim of pleasing the elderly and the easily impressed. Yet unlike James Patterson, whose novels are invariably awful, ITV occasionally get the police drama right—unsurprising really, considering just how many of them they make. And so for every couple of duds that the channel produces, there is generally at least one series that is immensely watchable, even if it is not especially original.
Law and Order: UK, now remarkably in its seventh series, is one of these programmes. Although it doesn’t completely manage to avoid the clichés so often found in procedural dramas (lines like “Sarge, you better come an ‘ave a look a this…” are still commonplace), even at its most derivative it is undeniably entertaining. It is also, much like the original US series of Law and Order, frequently rather grim.
The first episode of the new series, for instance, opens with a train crash in which 15 people, including a young boy, are killed. It’s up to the usual team of police offers to find out who or what is responsible for this enormous tragedy. Or at least it would be if not for the fact that there have been several changes to the cast this series. Fortunately, the formula of Law & Order: UK is such that cast members can come and go without really hindering the series too much.
Regular viewers may nevertheless be sorry to see top cop Clare (Harriet Walter) leave, although solace can surely be found in the arrival of Paterson Joseph, who is a fitting replacement and will be immediately recognisable to viewers as Alan Johnson from Peep Show. Freema Agyeman, meanwhile, gives way to Georgia Taylor (Casualty) in the opening titles, who plays the role of hardnosed prosecuting lawyer Kate Barker.
As the police begin their inquiry it seems inevitable that Michael Gennis is responsible for the train crash, an insufferable man whose unmaskable smugness alone should be grounds for conviction. “Blame Clarkson,” he says of his long list of driving offenses, before shrugging when it is mentioned how he used to beat his former girlfriend.
But just as it looks as if Gennis is their man, a new development occurs, and indeed a new suspect—a suicidal man who has battled with depression and alcoholism for many years. When the case is taken to court, the man insists that the accident was a suicide attempt gone wrong. His vulnerability thus becomes the linchpin in the case as it is decided whether he should be spared serving time due to his poor mental health.
In spite of its gruesome opening few minutes, it’s a relatively tame first episode, but one that will likely provide the set up for the second part of the story. It ends with much left unresolved, but it’s hard to feel disappointed, as the series proves itself once again to be one of the better—if not one of the best—police dramas ITV have aired in the last few years.