By Any Means BBC1, with Warren Brown, Gina McKee, Shelley Conn PREVIEW

Thomas Tomkins (ANDREW-LEE POTTS), Jack Quinn (WARREN BROWN), Jessica Jones (SHELLEY CONN)
Andrew-Lee Potts, Warren Brown and Shelley Conn in By Any Means. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★½

BBC1: starts Sunday, 22 September, 9pm

Story: A clandestine team of cops, led by Jack Quinn, is brought on board by their mysterious handler Helen Barlow when infamously crooked businessman Nicholas Mason is acquitted of robbery and the murder of an innocent man, due to lack of evidence.

THE PREMISE sounds terrific – undercover cops sorting out elusive, elite criminals by any means. It’s also got Warren Brown, and he too was terrific in the recent hard-hitting BBC series Good Cop.

But hard-hitting By Any Means certainly is not. It’s a fun drama, a bit larky, very much like Hustle but with ‘maverick’ cops instead of conmen targeting evil-doers.

That’s not to say By Any Means is no good. It’s fine, in the same mould as Jonathan Creek, New Tricks or Murder on the Home Front. It’s just unlikely to be the standout show on Warren Brown’s CV.

Warren Brown plays Jack Quinn

What it has got is snappy storytelling, a funky soundtrack and some laugh-out loud dialogue.

Nicholas Mason (KEITH ALLEN) in BBC1's By Any Means
You won’t like him when he’s angry – Keith Allen

Brown plays Jack Quinn, who heads a secret team that is directed by cloak-and-dagger handler Helen Barlow (Gina McKee) to take out criminals who have evaded justice.

‘I want him off the streets – by any means,’ she tells Quinn of his latest mark, that portrayer of pantomime baddies Keith Allen, known here as Nick Mason, who is so bad he’s funny.

Quinn is assisted by other mavericks in the shape of Shelley Conn as Jessica ‘Sassy’ Jones and Andrew-Lee Potts as Thomas ‘techie’ Tomkins, who look less like hardened cops experienced in burglary and undercover work than, well, pleasant young actors.

‘It’s a grey area’

Stan Bond (JOHN HENSHAW) in BBC1's By Any Means
Big shot – Jon Henshaw is Stan

Mason has been acquitted of robbery and the murder of an innocent father, and that is why he is in the sights of Quinn’s team of cops-but-not-cops – as Quinn himself says several times of their status, ‘It’s a grey area’, which will surely be the show’s catchphrase.

There’s a lot of tech ju-ju thrown at the audience – CCTV mainframes, hacking, a ‘burglar-alarm app’ – during which Quinn’s squad executes its Hustle-style scam on Nick, which involves conning him into thinking his dollybird is having an affair so he will hot-headedly make a mistake.

By Any Means has some nice gags in it, it moves along at a stonking pace, and it’s a fairly inoffensive way to while away an hour. But you do wonder what Warren Brown will do next…

Cast: Warren Brown Jack Quinn, Gina McKee Helen Barlow, Shelley Conn Jessica Jones, Keith Allen Nicholas Mason, Elliot Knight Charlie O’Brien, Jon Henshaw Stan Bond, Jessica Ellerby Karen Mason, Richard Lumsden Raymond Nash, Ben Cartwright Chris Henney, James Norton Michael Prence, Andrew-Lee Potts Thomas Tomkins, Martin Jarvis Paul Hollander

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Secret State starring Gabriel Byrne PREVIEW

Chaos – Deputy Prime Minister Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) inspects the damage. Pics C4

Rating: ★★★★

Channel 4: starts Wednesday, 7 November, 10pm

Story: Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins vows to take on the American petrochemical company PetroFex after a devastating accident on British soil. But an array of clandestine powers are ranged against him.

This is a juicy conspiracy drama for these days of official cock-ups, cover-ups and corporations ganging-up on the rest of us.

It’s the second time C4 have made a version of British politician Chris Mullin’s novel A Very British Coup – the first being shown in 1988 with Ray McAnally – but our dread of what goes on in the corridors of power and commerce has rarely been sharper.

In this new version there’s another Irishman playing the man in Number 10 – Gabriel Byrne. He is deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins, who’s left with a crisis when an exposion at a petrol plant owned by a US company kills several people in Teesside and devastates a community.

Dawkins and his rivals, Ros Yelland (left) and FelixDurrell

The Prime Minister is killed
When his boss, the Prime Minister, is then killed in a plane crash while returning from America where he’s been meeting the PetroFex honchos, safe-pair-of-hands Dawkins becomes temporary PM. That is, until one of the two government velociraptors – Felix Durrell or Ros Yelland – can slug it out in a leadership contest.

This pair waste no time elbowing their way to power, with Ros not exactly breaking down in grief at the PM’s demise – ‘He’s dead. We would have had to replace him anyway after he lost the election.’

The plot thickens nicely as Dawkins balances between these two while at the same time becoming aware that there is a whiff of scandal behind the tragic events, largely thanks to the efforts of journalist Ellis Kane.

The Americans ask GCHQ to bug a journalist
Was the plane the Prime Minister was travelling on, owned by PetroFex, hit by terrorists, or sabotaged by other interests? Why is the pathologist, who’s found toxicity in the bodies of blast victims, being blocked in his work? Why have the Americans asked GCHQ to monitor the journalist’s mobile phone?

A dark, menacing mood of unseen forces pervades the opening episode (of four). And a terrific cast plays up the shifty-eyed, duplicitous potential of the story for all it’s worth.

Gabriel Byrne is definitely star of the show as the establishment’s odd man out with his shred of integrity still in tact. He’s certainly an actor with an adventurous past (Miller’s Crossing, The Usual Suspects, In Treatment) and a fascinating future (the Beeb’s new detective series Quirke).

Investigative reporter Ellis Kane (Gina McKee)

Gina McKee, Charles Dance and Rupert Graves
Charles Dance’s baleful glances are perfect for the chief whip, while Rupert Graves is a shit once again as Felix. Gina McKee is the journo and Ruth Negga is the GCHQ analyst with a birds-eye view of what’s going on.

A slight criticism is that the politicians are a little too grotesque at times, with Felix Durrell and Ros Yelland resembling Alan B’Stard more than real life forked-tongue public servants.

But Secret State is engrossing and intelligent. Executive producer Jason Newmark explains why he and director Ed Fraiman thought Chris Mullin’s novel was ripe for an update: ‘The original novel was set in the 80s against the backdrop of Cold War tensions, and the thriller played upon the perceived Soviet threat to Britain as a reason for the establishment’s corruption of democracy.

Threats to democacy
‘In contemporary Britain such a stark paradigm no longer exists, but there are other, more hidden ways in which democracy is compromised. We retained the bones of the story of the original novel, but focused our thriller on the latent power of the military-industrial complex and global corporate capitalism as new threats to democracy.’

Conspiracy theory or not, in the light of the banking meltdown, Hillsborough and the expenses scandal, who’s to say the powers that be would never behave with such malevolent self-interest?

Cast: Gabriel Byrne Tom Dawkins, Charles Dance John Hodder, Stephen Dillane Paul Jacob Clark, Don Gayle Lead Journalist, Rupert Graves Felix Durrell, Ralph Ineson Wrigglesworth, Russell Kilmister Nillis Jacobson, Sylvestra Le Touzel Ros Yelland, Anna Madeley Gina Hayes, Gina McKee Ellis Kane, Ruth Negga Agnes Evans, Jamie Sives Lee Foulds, Al Weaver Joss Leyton, Douglas Hodge Anthony Fossett, Nicholas Farrell General Munnery, Michael Gould William Hawley, Kika Markham  Carol Molloy, Lia Williams Laura Duchenne

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Line of Duty starring Lennie James PREVIEW

Line of Duty: DCI James, DS Arnott and DC Fleming. Pics: BBC

Rating: ★★★★

BBC2: starts Tuesday, 26 June, 9pm

Story: Steve Arnott is a young officer who’s fallen foul of his superiors for refusing to help in the cover-up of an operation that ended in the shooting of an innocent father. He seems ideal to join AC-12, an anti-corruption police unit, just as it starts to investigate Detective Chief Inspector Tony Gates, the regional force’s Officer of the Year.

Dodgy cops and a public cheated of decent policing are the themes of this bold and tense new thriller. An intelligent, gripping drama that delves into the reality of modern policing is long overdue.

Lennie James plays DCI Tony Gates, a Jag-driving, highly commended detective with a complicated professional and private life. Adrian Dunbar is the ‘zealot’ anti-corruption cop, Superintendent Hastings, who suspects that Gates’ glowing record and outstanding clear-up rate is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Fleming wants to join the ‘big, sexy’ crime squad

He drafts in young DS Steve Arnott, played by Martin Compston – who has refused his previous boss’s order to help cover-up police failings that resulted in the killing of an innocent man – to join his crusade against bent coppers. Trouble is, Steve is not sure Gates is up to no good. When Hastings cites Gates for not reporting a free restaurant meal he accepted, Arnott’s belief that Hastings is just picking on a good officer seems to be confirmed.

Vicky McClure as DC Fleming
Writer/producer Jed Mercurio deftly and quickly establishes a murky and troubling depiction of modern coppering, with characters treading a fine line between getting the job done and breaking the rules.

His story introduces us to the practice of ‘laddering’, or cherry-picking easy cases, then adding a series of bogus charges that never make it to court but boost an officer’s clear-up figures. And we also see DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) being ordered to ‘prioritise’ – pursue two out of three cases, while downgrading a third that can’t be resolved quickly.

What makes the drama captivating is that there are so many grey areas around the characters, particularly Gates. He disarms a thug trying to mug a young mother, but also helps his girlfriend (Gina McKee) to dodge a drink-driving rap, which he doesn’t realise is actually a hit-and-run killing.

DCI Gates’ ‘big, sexy’ crime squad
Fleming also notices him massaging his caseload, but is he a crook? Watching Hastings and his boys trying to prove it over five episodes will be intriguing, but it is a refreshing change to see a mainstream UK crime drama that isn’t about ingenious serial killers or murderers in picturesque settings.

Watchful: Gates and Morton

Gates’ ‘big, sexy’ crime squad TO-20 is an all-male club that includes Gates’ loyal followers DS Matt ‘Dot’ Cottan, DC Deepak Kapoor and DC Nigel Morton. It’s a club that ambitious Kate Fleming wants to join. Gates has an aura as the force’s star attraction and most would back his confidence that he can see off Hastings and AC-12.

Mercurio, the man who created the excellent drama Cardiac Arrest, says of the drama’s genesis, ‘My research revealed that modern policing is a far cry from the familiar world of most police dramas. Police procedures have been transformed by a target culture that dictates which crimes get investigated – and which don’t. Forces across the country routinely drop one in three reported crimes to concentrate on cases that can be solved within a workable timeframe by workable manpower… These revelations provided the perfect setting for our thriller, the less familiar precinct wherein the police police themselves.’

Lennie James must be delighted that Mercurio’s role of the sharp-witted police boss Gates came his way. He puts in a classy performance as the copper’s copper, and watching him trying to keep his empire together is going to be one of the summer’s main TV attractions.

Cast: Lennie James DCI Tony Gates, Martin Compston DS Steve Arnott, Vicky McClure DC Kate Fleming, Gina McKee Jackie Laverty, Adrian Dunbar Superintendent Ted Hastings, Craig Parkinson DS Matt ‘Dot’ Cottan, Neil Morrissey DC Nigel Morton, Faraz Ayub DC Deepak Kapoor

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