Babylon, C4, James Nesbitt, Brit Marling PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★½

Channel 4: starts Thursday, 13 November, 10pm

Story: Director of Communications Liz Garvey begins in earnest the job of trying to drag the police into the new media age. Meanwhile, it’s the job of Commissioner Richard Miller, Deputy Commissioner Charles Inglis and Assistant Commissioner Sharon Franklin to keep the force ticking over. 

FOLLOWING its well-received pilot episode back in February, Babylon is back on the beat for a six-part run of law and disorder.

It’s firmly in the realm of the Beeb’s nice little dig at the London Olympics in Twenty Twelve, poking fun at modern marketing speak and corporate arse-covering, rather than being a biting satire about the Metropolitan Police.

Let’s face it, the Met, with its rap sheet of controversies over Stephen Lawrence, the undercover surveillance, Hackgate and the rest, is hardly a laughing matter.

Brit Marling as Liz

So, Babylon – exec-produced by Danny Boyle – has fun with the media and management side of the

force, starting with American media guru Liz Garvey (Brit Marling) and the floundering honchos Commissioner Miller (James Nesbitt, a long way from Missing here), his deputy, Inglis (Paterson Joseph), and assistant Franklin (Nicola Walker).

And here is one of the strengths of the show – the cast are fun to watch, particularly Nicola Walker as the eye-rolling assistant commissioner, dealing with incompetence from above, below and from the private sector.

The opening episode sees her officers called in to help the private security firm running a young offenders institution when violence breaks out. Meanwhile, Paterson Joseph’s deputy commissioner is busy trying to work out whether to tell the world the incident is a disturbance, a severe disturbance or a riot.

Video of Warwick shooting an unarmed assailant 

Writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong delight in showing us this world in which police high-flyers

are more concerned with appearances than getting things done.

Brit Marling is also a great spanner in the works as Liz, trying to get her boss Commissioner Miller to be a little less passive-aggressive in his dealings with the media, while also boring her female colleagues stupid in the wine bar after work by banging on about the Met’s ‘brand’.

The lower ranks also have to deal with her new ideas. Armed response office Warwick’s nerves are shredded when she releases footage of him shooting an unarmed assailant in a show of openness from the Met – the public think we’re all ‘trigger-happy meatheads’.

Er, no comment.

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Fargo with Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman coming to C4

FOX TV’s new series version of the Coen brother’s classic crime-gone-wrong movie Fargo will hit Channel 4 in the UK soon after it goes out in the US in April.

The 10-parter stars Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa, Friday Night Lights) as Lorne Malvo, a rootless, manipulative type who derails the life of insurance salesman Lester Nygaard, played by Sherlock‘s Martin Freeman.

The 1996 original, starring Steve Buscemi, William H Macy and Frances McDormand, was a typically offbeat Coen creation, darkly humorous and grim in places. The series will feature an all-new ‘true crime’ story (the original had this label, but was actually based on ‘true’ events from several cases).

Colin Hanks (Dexter, Parkland) plays Duluth Police Deputy Gus Grimly, a single dad who must choose between his own personal safety and his duty as a police officer when he comes face-to-face with a killer. Rounding out Fargo’s cast of recurring characters is Emmy-winner Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad), who plays Deputy Bill Olson.

Joel & Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men, A Serious Man, True Grit) are among the exec producers.

Channel 4 Chief Creative Officer Jay Hunt says, ‘Fargo is a perfect Channel 4 show – a dark comedy, beautifully directed with a stunning cast. We are excited to be bringing it to a British audience.’

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine, E4, with Andy Samberg, Andre Braugher, Stephanie Beatriz PREVIEW

Law unto themselves – the Brooklyn Nine-Nine squad. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★★½

Starts C4, Friday, 17 January, 11.5pm (E4: Thursdays, 9pm)

Story: Jake Peralta is a talented but carefree detective at Brooklyn’s 99th Precinct. He and his eclectic group of colleagues. Their cushy time at work is about to end with the arrival of new hard-ass Captain Ray Holt, a man with a lot to prove.

THE ROLL-CALL of comedy cop shows is a long and honourable one. Stretching back to Car 54, Where Are You? in the 60s, Barney Miller in the 70s and onto The Thin Blue Line in the 90s and most recently A Touch of Cloth and Vexed, law and disorder has a long service record.

Now comes this sharp half hour in the company of Brooklyn’s finest, made by Fox, with Andy

Jake proves that he’s wearing a tie

Samberg as Detective Jake Peralta and his oddball colleagues adjusting to life with a new captain, Ray Holt, played in brilliant deadpan style by Andre Braugher.

It has taken the new captain a long time to get his own command because he is openly gay. Having got it, he doesn’t want his team to goof things up. Everyone must now wear a tie and be super-efficient.

Fearsome Detective Diaz

The opening half hour pitches a nice selection of nutty individuals to the audience. There is Detective Sergeant Terry Jeffords, who used to be overweight and called Terry Titties. He calls his daughters Cagney and Lacey.

Childish Jake Peralta is in a childish competition with earnest Detective Amy Santiago to see who can clock up the most arrests. And Detective Boyle hopes to date the fearsome Detective Diaz.

But he’s warned by the office admin gal Gina, ‘She’s got a type. It’s pretty much anyone but you.’

Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher

To which Boyle replies, ‘Yeah, that was my wife’s type too.’

Andre Braugher is excellent as Capt Holt

There are a lot of gags flying by in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and most raise a smile. What makes it work is having Braugher – who was brilliant in the excellent and very serious Homicide: Life on the Street in the 90s – as the straight guy, so to speak, dishing out the baleful looks.

Cast: Andy Samberg Detective Jake Peralta, Andre Braugher Captain Ray Holt, Stephanie Beatriz Detective Rosa Diaz, Terry Crews Detective Sergeant Terence ‘Terry’ Jeffords, Melissa Fumero Detective Amy Santiago, Joe Lo Truglio Detective Charles Boyle, Chelsea Peretti Administrator Gina Linetti

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Hostages, C4, with Toni Collette, Dylan McDermott, Tate Donovan PREVIEW

Hostages: Toni Collette, Mateus Ward, Tate Donovan, Quinn Shephard. Channel 4
Under siege – Dr Ellen Sanders (Toni Collette) and her family are Hostages. Pic: C4

Rating: ★★★½

C4: starts Saturday, 11 January, 9pm

Story: Ellen Sanders is a top surgeon in Washington, DC, chosen by the President to treat him. But Ellen’s life takes a horrifying turn when masked men invade her home and take her husband and two children hostage, threatening to harm them unless she kills the President when she operates on him.

HOSTAGES HAS been tagged the new Homeland in some quarters. But it’s really more like 24.

Hostages: Brian (Tate Donovan) is attacked. Channel 4
Husband Brian forgets to follow the rules

It has the same format, with each of its 15 episodes being devoted to one hour in one traumatic day for surgeon Ellen Sanders, whose family is take hostage to force her to surreptitiously assassinate the President, on whom she is about to operate in hospital.

Hostages also a thriller that, like 24, is less a mirror of contemporary qualms about the war on terror than with some rather far-fetched twists and cliffhangers. Homeland has better, more believable characters; Hostages is about action and pace.

Hostages: Dylan McDermott as Duncan Carlisle. Channel 4
FBI assassin plot (Dylan McDermott)

Hostages has menace and intrigue

But for a Saturday night thrill-fest, Hostages ticks all the boxes. There’s a good element of surveillance menace in the story, with Ellen’s family having clearly been minutely monitored before the hostages takers arrive. ‘We have eyes and ears everywhere,’ says FBI man turned plotter Duncan Carlisle. ‘We have thought of everything.’

There is plenty of intrigue. Who are the hostage takers? Why is there an FBI agent among them? Why do they want to kill the President? Will Ellen give in to their demands? Will she find out her daughter is pregnant?

That’s right – the international crisis is mixed with domestic drama. The nuclear family is something Hostages does have in common with Homeland. Ellen, played by the excellent Toni Collette, is married to Brian (Tate Donovan), and they have two teenage kids, Jake and Morgan, who, being teens, are of course trouble.

Toni Collette as Dr Sanders

Hostages: Toni Collette as Dr Ellen Sanders. Channel 4
Sanders (Toni Collette)

Dylan McDermott as baddie Duncan Carlisle is rugged and intimidating, while Toni Collette, who has put in many fine performances down the years, simply looks alarmed most of the time. Hopefully, ensuing episodes will stretch her a bit more.

It’s a bit formulaic and has too many twists to be really captivating. But Hostages has high production quality and rips along so slickly it is hard not to hang on to see what’s coming next.

Cast: Dylan McDermott Duncan Carlisle, Toni Collette Dr Ellen Sanders, Tate Donovan Brian Sanders, Rhys Coiro Kramer Daly, Sandrine Holt Sandrine Renault, Mateus Ward Jake Sanders, Quinn Shephard Morgan Sanders, Billy Brown Archer Petit, James Naughton President Paul Kincaid, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio Mary Kincaid

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Top Boy 2, C4, with Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Lorraine Burroughs

Dushane (Ashley Walters) and Dris (Shone Romulus) in Top Boy 2
Dushane and Dris in Top Boy 2. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Tuesday, 20 August, 9pm

Story: 27-year-old Dushane has finally made it as ‘Top Boy’, and is moving into the big time with boss Joe. But Dushane’s former right-hand man, Sully, is now a potentially dangerous rival with a new partner-in-crime, violent and volatile Mike…

Graffiti of Sully and Dushane in C4's Top Boy2
Sully and Dushane – series artwork

WELCOME BACK to the Summerhouse Estate, where the gangs are still thriving and tension is high. Dushane is where he wants to be – Top Boy – and thinks he can ride the tiger, that he is in control.

He’s joined up with big boss Joe and they are getting their largest drugs shipment ever. For most of the opening episode (there are four in all), everything seems to be going Dushane’s way.

Even when he is arrested on suspicion of killing Kamale, Dushane is soon released unscathed, with the help of attractive solicitor Rhianna, who even agrees to go for a drink with him.

Bleak Hackney accompanied by Brian Eno

Dushane’s former ally Sully is scrabbling around to brutalise his way to small amounts of

Vincent (Benedict Wong) in C4's Top Boy 2
Drug dealer Vincent terrorises Gem

cash, in cahoots with violent Mike. But even if Dushane misses his old mucker, Sully is strictly small time.

This second instalment of Top Boy picks up where the first, Bafta-nominated, series left off. It’s written by novelist and screenwriter Ronan Bennett (Hidden, Public Enemies), a resident of Hackney whose tale here has a proper feel for the borough and its rough side.

In modern TV dramas council estates are shorthand for ‘chavs’ and lawlessness, and certainly those featured in Top Boy are bleak, with a score by Brian Eno rubbing in the starkness of it all. But not all of Bennett’s characters turn to gang culture as a means of escape, and that’s what makes the drama a rewarding experience.

Escaping the Summerhouse Estate gangs?

Ra’Nell’s story is again contrasted with those of Dushane’s and the gang members, as he attempts to keep his head down while furthering his prospects as a footballer. His mother, Lisa, has turned a corner after her nervous breakdown and is now running her own hairdresser’s.

Michael, Navaeh and Nafisa in C4's Top Boy 2
Michael, Navaeh and Nafisa

But his friend Gem is in the clutches of a Chinese drug dealer, and his plight threatens to submerge Ra’Nell too. From 12-year-old budding rapper Michael to the other young members of Dushane’s crew, such as Nevaeh and R’Marni, this is the story of the youngsters in a hazardous urban setting.

Ronan Bennett has seen drug-dealing ‘tinies’ near his home and he has spoken to them, and Top Boy is a judgement-free portrayal of these kids, their attitudes, ambitions and relationships – good, bad and ugly. It’s in turn dismaying, raw, frightening and sometimes funny.

Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson and David Hayman

Ashley Walters, once of Grange Hill and So Solid Crew, has the charisma to be a believable gang leader, while David Hayman oozes menace as Joe. Kane Robinson as Sully holds his own

Gem and Ra'Nell in C4's Top Boy 2
Gem and Ra’Nell

as Dushane’s equal, while the young cast members (with Malcolm Kamulete as Ra’Nell and Giacomo Mancini as Gem) all feel authentic.

By the end of the first episode, the overarching crime storyline takes a shocking twist, ensuring that events are starting to spin out of Dushane’s control.

Apparently, a third series is in the pipeline, which is good news. C4’s drama renaissance is helping to expunge memories of its past reality horrors such as Big Brother and The Man with 10-Stone Testicles. Top Boy is a mark of the channel’s new-found thirst for originality and bold drama commissioning, following on from recent successes Utopia and Southcliffe.

Cast: Ashley Walters Dushane, Kane Robinson Sully, David Hayman Joe, Paul Anderson Mike, Sharon Duncan-Brewster Lisa, Giacomo Mancini Gem, Malcolm Kamulete Ra’Nell, Shone Romulus Dris, Lorraine Burroughs Rhianna

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Run, C4, Olivia Colman, Lennie James, Jaime Winstone, Neil Maskell PREVIEW

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: Monday 15-Thursday 18 July, 10pm

Story: Four seemingly unconnected stories about people at crunch moments in their lives, including single-mum Carol, whose sons are wanted by the police, and illegal immigrant Ying…

HATS OFF TO CHANNEL 4 for steering clear of the period dramas and cop procedurals we see so much of on the other sides.

Last year they gave us the thought-provoking Murder: Joint Enterprise (which will return), earlier this year we had the jaunty but not entirely successful Utopia. Now C4 is stripping this new rough-edged, four-part drama through the week.

Olivia Colman

Outside of Jimmy McGovern, most TV dramas steer clear of working-class life these days. Run, however, is an honest attempt to bring talented established stars and newcomers together to tell four linking tales that take a walk on the poverty-stricken side of Britain that goes on all around us.

Olivia Colman ditches that nice detective persona from Broadchurch to play a foul-mouthed single mum, bringing up two teenage boys who have few redeeming features. Dean batters his girlfriend Tracey, while Terry tags along.

Carol herself is the kind of woman who is vilified in the media these days for not being middle-class enough. She is coarse, ignores Dean giving Trace a ‘slap’ and nicks stuff from the warehouse where she works. She lives on an estate, is separated from her psycho boyfriend, played sublimely by Neil Maskell, and is fighting to hold her life of tears and fags together.

Carol discovers her sons’ secret

It is while Dean is dragging Trace around by the hair in a car park that a passerby sees him, and carries on passing by. Being a nutter, Dean wants to know what the stranger is looking at, before joining forces with his brother to beat the man to death. Downton Abbey it ain’t.

Carol has an inkling that something’s wrong when she finds the boys’ bloody clothes in the laundry. When she suggests to their father they should tell the police it was an accident, Kieran – whose normal mode of communication is with his fists – punches her.

Run is created and written by newcomers Marlon Smith and Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan and succeeds in

getting us to see the world through Carol’s eyes. It’s brutal, and the language will make your eyes water at times. But for all its bleakness, it finds the traces of humanity that still bind people together despite their poverty and lack of opportunities.

Part two follows up with Ying’s story. We’ve seen her buying stolen goods from Carol, but learn that Ying (Katie Leung) is an illegal immigrant facing a painful future in debt to a Snakehead gang. Wednesday’s story is about struggling heroin addict Richard (Lennie James), and Thursday’s about Kasia (Katharina Schuttler), a Polish woman in London who is struggling to make a living while contending with her gambling-addict boyfriend.

Hard-hitting and affecting, the stories are well-acted and refreshingly frank.

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