At a time when every other show seems to deal with coppers and crime, it takes something seriously special to make a new police procedural stand out from the crowd. With No Offence, Shameless scribe Paul Abbott has done just that, creating an original crime drama that is more breathless, bold and remorselessly filthy than you ever thought possible.
The series follows an unorthodox crack team of cops, led by Joanna Scanlan’s brilliantly bolshie DI Viv Deering, who go above and beyond to keep the streets of Manchester relatively crime free. In last night’s series opener DC Dinah Kowalski (Elaine Cassidy) discovers a pattern in the deaths of two young women with Down’s syndrome and realises Friday Street Station has a twisted serial killer on its hands. With a third girl already missing, Deering and her team face a race against time to rescue her.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the nuts-and-bolts procedural stuff that feels the most ordinary and therefore the least entertaining. The investigation follows the familiar pattern: the body of a young woman is found, the cops make headway in the investigation then get dragged in the wrong direction by a false lead, before finally pulling it back just in the nick of time to save the day. There’s also an underfed subplot involving an elderly woman snitching on her thieving grandson that is completely forgotten after the first act.
Where No Offence sets itself apart, though, is with its close-to-the-knuckle humour and raucous humanity that plays like the version of Babylon Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong intended to make before they were sidetrack by a bloated cast. The plot zips along at a whippet’s pace, opening with a frenetic chase through the mancunian nightlife that ends with a gruesome death and never letting up from there, and Abbott infuses the action with a sharp-tongued humour that gives the show its stinging edge. There aren’t many shows that can crack a joke about a woman being killed by choking on her own dog without it feeling like a spoof, but No Offence absolutely nails it.
This unique energy is defined by Scanlan’s powerhouse performance as the straight-talking DI Deering, the total antithesis of her passive-aggressive civil-servant role in The Thick of It. It’s refreshing to finally see a middle-aged woman deliver The Sweeney-esque rants to her colleagues – one standout scene sees her burst in the men’s loo to take her superior to task over his dismissive behaviour – and Scanlan steals the show by playing this role with unexpected gusto.
It’s not just Scanlan who impresses, however; the entire cast has been blessed with marvellously well-drawn characters. Playing on the genres traditional archetypes – Will Mellor’s wisecracking DC, Cassidy’s impetuous detective, and Alexandra Roach’s new DS who has great potential if she can only overcome her nerves – Abbott gives his characters a verve and relatability that makes them feel authentic. There’s an instant intimacy and shorthand to the team’s interactions that creates a likeable camaraderie that goes beyond the usual cheap ‘banter’, making you believe these people really do work together.
It’s this characterisation that also grounds the show amid all its coarse humour, Abbott often dialling back the pace to produce moments of frank humanity, such as the fleeting tenderness between Deering and her lover or the flicker of pride that betrays Roach’s shy Freers when she is praised, ensuring we care about the tangled relationships of this disparate team by making them fragile and real.
These subtle character moments also make the drama that much more hard-hitting, especially as DC Kowalski becomes over-involved in saving the victim of a horrid crime, ensuring that, while there’s a predictability about the sequence of events, the execution is adroitly taut and unrelenting in its use of tension.
Far from just another bleak procedural, then, No Offence is a bold, exhilarating and crudely funny crime drama with bite, and it represents a real game-changer for an over-worked genre on the brink of stagnation.
Click here to watch No Offence – Episode One on 4OD