Review: Blue Lights (S1 E1/6)

I wasn’t intending to watch Blue Lights, the BBC’s new cop show. That’s right an actual cop show – not tortured detectives, not private investigators, not journalists on the hunt for a story… an actual blues and twos police series. We haven’t had one since Line Of Duty, and even then that focused on the holy trinity of Ted Hastings, Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming.

When you think of blues and twos cop shows – especially here in the UK – you think of The Bill, and I wondered if Blue Lights was trying to be exactly that… a new version of The Bill. Add in a Belfast setting (bound to be about The Troubles), John Lynch (a fine actor but seemingly in everything set in Northern Ireland) and the usual tropes about rookie cops, and I wasn’t sure I could stomach a six-parter covering these well-worn bases.

And yet, this first episode of Blue Lights turned out to be very enjoyable and hugely watchable.

Created by Declan Lawn and Adam Patterson (The Salisbury Poisonings) and featuring an impressive ensemble cast that includes Siân Brooke, Richard Dormer, the aforementioned John Lynch, and the always fantastic and always underrated Valene Kane.

Brooke plays 41-year-old single mum Grace Ellis, a former social worker who has decided to change career and become a police officer. She joins two other – much younger – probationers on the force (Annie Conlon and Tommy Foster), shepherded and often comically harangued (I think the word is banter) by their world-weary colleagues. Each of these more experienced colleagues wants to do the job and get home safe and sound each night, nothing more and nothing less. But these three probationers, including Grace, is idealistic in their own way, and believe that being a police officer is something special and exists because they can make a difference.

Yes, there are some of the usual rites-of-passage, coming-of-age tropes we see in rookie cop shows, where the probationers are thrown into the deep end, are beaten up on the job (in Annie’s case, at least) and are asked to sink or swim. All of them – so far – are gritting their teeth and surviving.

The plot, and there is a plot, centres mostly around Grace and her ride-along Stevie Neil who becomes embroiled in an investigation around the Mackle family. The son is arrested for car theft, which connects him to a crime family, and his mother, Angela (Kane, on great form) is vulnerable. As a former social worker, Grace sees an opportunity to help, which means out-of-hours help. This could be a big mistake, especially as there seems to be an undercover operation looking at the same family and crimelord, James McIntyre.

We’ve seen much of this before in other series (The Responder, Without Sin etc) but aside from some questionable lighting (lens flare, really?), Blue Lights feels fresh precisely because we haven’t seen a decent, ensemble cop show for quite a while. And, as we follow our probationers around the dangerous streets of the city, we’re constantly being put in stressful situations.

Lets’s hope it continues.

Paul Hirons

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

9 thoughts on “Review: Blue Lights (S1 E1/6)”

  1. “ Anamorphic lens flare, AKA the “anamorphic streak,” is a form of lens flare that appears as horizontal lines rather than traditional, circular bokeh. Now considered a sought-after visual effect, these unique lens flare streaks first appeared due to aberrations (optical flaws) in anamorphic lenses.” Irritating AF to me, overused in this show,. I had an episode of The Wire (that I did post-production on 39 episodes of) rejected by Quality Control at HBO, for even a tiny chink of flare from sunlight, using the more common spherical lenses. The show’s creators must have lobbied the BBC hard to be allowed to have so many of these flares in their show.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There is no logical reason to used anamorphic lenses (designed for widescreen cinema) on a tv show, unless you want, for creative reasons, their shallower depth of field at certain focal lengths, or you think their lens flare is cool.


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