This week saw the debut of Sky One’s Bulletproof, starring Ashley Walters and Noel Clarke as a couple of hot-headed, bickering police officers tackling the underbelly of London’s crimeworld.
It starts with the boys, Pike (Walters) and Bishop (Clarke) knocking ten bells out of each other in a boxing ring. It’s banterful, it’s lighthearted, as they jokingly beat up one another before comparing waistlines in the locker room, and then dousing themselves in Lynx. This is unmistakably a show about boys for boys bu in 2018 it’d do well to at least try to cater beyond a male demographic.
On the surface, it seems Bulletproof, the latest cop drama series created and written by and starring its leads, is yet another buddy cop series in the vein of Lethal Weapon or even The Bill.
Warning: The following review contains episode one spoilers.
But when the pair have a quick-firing conversation about whether they should have free range chicken for dinner and bicker about whether it’s better to save the cash, we’re teased with the possibility that this might be actually something a little different and less obvious than what its first impressions muster.
As things begin fairly subdued after meeting up with a distressed informant, the stakes quickly increase once said snitch is ran over and murdered in front of their eyes – it’s a shocking and graphic moment that serves as a catalyst for the rest of the episode.
Everything comes across as hammed-up, though, an are constantly reminded that we’re watching a British police drama from the director of 2012’s The Sweeney, and creator of Kidulthood, but this one’s admittedly got a bit of edge with Walters (who starred in the excellent Top Boy) and Clarke (who’s recently ventured into Hollywood) as the centrepiece. As far as first impressions go, think Idris Elba’s Luther: it’s a particularly familiar with its London aesthetic with the success of the show hinging on the balance of this duo. Time will tell us whether their chemistry and its writing indeed elevates or hampers the impending storylines.
With a story that builds in pace after said murder, leading them down a path of armed thugs, car thieves, and shootouts, it all ends up feeling flat and wholly predictable. The dialogue isn’t as tidy as it could be, which has a knock-on effect to its overall momentum.
The problem is our leads, specifically Clarke, are totally likeable. Walters’ Pike seems to be the more level-headed and rationale one, and he’s got a family and a daughter to consider. The onus seems to be on Bishop’s negative influence of leading him astray. In contrast, he isn’t tied down but does, for now at least, have a partner, Sophie (Emma Rigby), and is most certainly the one who’d be most likely to get the pair into bother.
Despite the odd moment of humour that works, it also appears rather amateur in terms of how the policing unit operates within the fictional parameters of the show. When undercover colleagues get ‘made’ there’s no one else around serving as back-up and, as a result, they’re left battered and bloodied, having been bunged in the boot of a car. In Jonesy’s (David Elliot) case, he’s been shot and left fighting for his life – which in turn makes way for a surprising twist right at the end.
Having been suspicious that his other half, Sophie, is cheating on him, Bishop’s mind is falsely laid to rest when, after spying at her phone to see a collection of messages to and from Jonesy, he’s told that Jonsey is actually a female pal from Scotland. Only, it turns out Sophie’s a great liar and it was a smokescreen for her actual affair with his colleague, as we learn right at the end, seeing the episode out as a uncharacteristically calm rage ignites in Bishop.
And it’s interesting to end on such a personal note rather than it being anything bigger in terms of plot. Having a focus on family and personal life rather than an over-arching cop-based narrative (so far, at least) makes you more invested to see what happens next.
It’s not the criminal underworld side or delving into what the bad guys are doing that will encourage you to watch more; it’s seeing how Bishop deals with the cheating revelation and having his heart stomped on, because while his character isn’t particularly endearing or overtly sensitive, his volatility and anger is now shared by the viewer, after feeling equally betrayed by Sophie.
If you’re a fan of Clarke and indeed Walters, you’ll no doubt appreciate the banter of the programme. It’s got a very ‘boys will be boys’ attitude, that includes guns, fighting, male aggression, suppressing emotions, fast cars and chases, and a male camaraderie that is in danger of swerving into the realms of being too toxic in its own masculinity yet just manages to reign it in with an added emphasis on relationships, family, and love.
Bulletproof is on every Tuesday, at 9pm, on Sky One. Watch episode one on Sky Catch Up now.