The Responder

Rating 8.6
Streamer BBC iPlayer
Seasons 1
Episodes 5 x 60 mins

Chris Carson (Martin Freeman) is a good man but a faltering cop. As a police responder he’s first to arrive at crime scenes on the night streets of Liverpool, a city where on a good day everyone is family, but on a bad night, everyone knows everyone. And Carson, strained to breaking by the demands of his work, his marriage under pressure and his shrink unable to crack him, has begun to care more for the people on both sides of the law than the rules of policing. “The job has ruined me,” he says. “Every night there’s spit on my face, there’s blood on my boots. And it never stops.” They know this, and childhood friend and drug dealer Carl (Ian Hart, mop-topped and fearsome) has more kompromat than Gavin Williamson’s hard drive.

British acting royalty taking on the surreal life of criminals: Landscapers

Freeman throws himself whole at a finely-tuned scenario, like someone released from a day job. And it’s no accident that a hard-won quality runs through the show, and noteworthy that the producers were also behind the sensational Salisbury Poisonings. When the all-conquering The Wire landed in 2002, it raised the bar for police procedurals – and arguably for all TV – because the writers had spent a decade respectively on the Baltimore homicide squad and crime reporting beat (to which they added a soupçon of Greek Tragedy). Former police responder Tony Schumacher, turns in his first screenplay, which the Guardian’s Lucy Mangancalls “an astoundingly tough, vigorous, sinewy thing without a wasted word or moment”. Schumacher himself wrote in the Telegraph about how “in the shape of about two months, I went from being a copper who did a bit of stand-up comedy on the side, with a nice wife and a nice house, to the kind of bloke who slept in his car with nothing but a farting dog for company. I was shell-shocked.” 

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The critics were (almost) united in their 5-star acclaim, with the path set for BAFTAs glory for all involved. The Telegraph’s Anita Singh wants us to be clear “that it’s not a police drama. It’s a drama about a police officer… bleak, nerve-jangling… a superb piece of work.”

Sean O’Grady in the Independent found it grim, dimly-lit, and hard to follow. But the  Evening Standard’s Kate Rosseinsky was bowled over, calling it “authentic, propulsive, funny and powerful”. Mangan says it’s “as fast and riveting as a thriller and as harrowing as a documentary. It says profound things about the toll frontline jobs can take… If you are looking for a state-of-the-nation piece, it is here.”

First shown January 2022. 

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