Detective Sergeant Nancy Devlin (Karla Crome) is a decorated police officer – well, she’s just won an ‘official police award’ – and is having an affair with colleague Kevin O’Dowd (Rob James-Collier, ex-Downton Abbey). But no-one knows she’s also protecting her schoolfriend’s father, dodgy haulier Frank Le Saux (Philip Glenister).
She’s covered for Frank’s dishonest dealings in the past, but when he summons her to a clandestine meeting, he tells her he’s in big trouble, then shots ring out and he falls. When the body is found, it has been shot in both eyes. Nancy is wounded but has escaped, but is horrified to be assigned to investigate the case.
Now, Philip Glenister is far too big a name to be thrown away in the pre-credits sequence, so we reckon that either we’re in for a lot of flashbacks, or he ain’t dead. The funeral occurs with indecent haste and there’s no scene of the body being identified, so we reckon it’s a switch.
Nancy, who has a fragile mother (Suzanne Packer), and an alcoholic ex-cop father Gil (Gary Lewis), sets up base in a seedy B&B in Brighton and is assigned to Sean Martin (Noel Clarke) for surveillance of the funeral. Le Saux had a complicated family life, including a fierce wife (Amanda Burton) and a developmentally challenged son Tate (Clan Binchy), but there’s no immediate clue to the shooter.
Nancy contacts her school friend, Hayley (Laura Haddock), who is now a WAG married to a footballer, but she’s understandably hostile, since they fell out over Hayley’s tearaway antics when they were younger.
Nancy’s number looks like it’s up when a bullet with her blood on it is found at the crime scene, but she manages to fudge the questioning of pharmacists, and distracts her boss Michelle Newman (Lindsey Coulson) by directing her to Customs agent Delia Bradley (Kelley Harrison), who argued with le Saux’s wife at the funeral.
Delia looks dodgy, as no Customs agent should really have a relationship with a haulier, but Nancy thinks that she’s not so much corrupt as romatically involved, as one of her children is the spitting image of Frank Le Saux.
Delia offers new information, but her car’s run off the road by a Le Saux truck, and she’s left in a coma. As a result, Kevin O’Dowd is assigned to help, complicating Nancy’s life further, particularly as her bullet wound is starting to suppurate, and someone seems to have CCTV of her visiting the pharmacist.
Hayley blames Nancy when Frank’s assets are frozen, but we suspect dodgy accountant Theo Kettler (Rupert Procter), and eventually so does Hayley, who offers to come in with evidence. But when the two meet, Nancy collapses.
While Karla Crome (Misfits, You Me & the Apocalypse) gives an authentically frazzled performance (and looks genuinely ill as her bullet-wound starts to affect her), there’s nothing much else convincing about the plot of The Level (and no, we don’t know what the title means either). If there’s one cop drama cliche we find annoying, it’s when the investigator is personally involved with the case – the first thing to happen in real life is that she’d be taken off it.
The Brighton background might have been made more of to give the piece some character; but throw in not one but two troublesome parents, not one but two fractious colleagues, and an arsey boss, and you have all the elements of a routine cop drama.
If anyone remembers The Hanged Man, classic 1975 thriller starring Colin Blakely in which a tycoon fakes his death and goes on the run to find out who’s trying to kill him, we reckon this is the same plot.
Our betting is that Le Saux is miraculously found to be alive in episode three, his wife Cherie is behind it all, the shooter turns out to be one of the truck drivers, and Michelle Newman is on the take and is the mole in the police. Either that, or we’re completely wrong and there are some major twists to come; but they’re needed if The Level is to do anything but cruise along on autopilot.