Paul Abbott has been responsible for some of my favourite British dramas in recent memory from the thrilling State of Play to the heartfelt Exile. However, Abbott’s probably best known for his work on Channel 4’s Shameless and tonight saw his latest drama debut on the channel.
Just like Shameless, No Offence focuses on a dysfunctional family unit who don’t always do what they should. However this family unit is comprised of a group of seemingly disparate police officers who work together at Manchester’s Friday Street Station. Mother of the pack is D.I. Vivienne Deering (Joanna Scanlan) who is presented as fiercely loyal, defending her team even if they step out of line. Deering is a whirlwind of a woman who is an amalgamation of Jane Tennyson from Prime Suspect and Gavin and Stacey’s Nessa. I think the trouble with the character of Deering is that she’s almost too colourful for a programme that’s supposed to be a crime drama at it’s heart. However, I think that Abbott balances the humour and the police procedural just right meaning that most of Deering’s lines come off as authentic. A particularly funny moment for me involves Deering’s mixing up of two sprays which leaves her with an uneasy taste in her mouth.
Even though I was a fan of Deering’s I think that if this had been an hour show devoted to her alone then it would’ve descended into farce. Luckily Abbott uses her sparingly and counterbalances her scenes with those featuring her two deputies; DC Dinah Kowalska (Elaine Cassidy) and DS Joy Frears (Alexandra Roach). If I were to continue using my family metaphor then Dinah would be the older sister, as she’s portrayed as incredibly smart but at the same time fairly impulsive. It’s these impulses that get her in trouble after fleeing from a crime scene in the brilliantly realised in the brilliant realised opening sequence. The fact that Dinah is a single mother adds another dimension to her character and it’s her maternal instinct that looks set to screw up the opening episode’s main case.
It’s Dinah who actually opens the case when she notices a link between two girls with Down’s Syndrome who went missing and were later found drowned. With a third girl with Down’s syndrome currently missing, Dinah persuades Deering that there’s a serial killer on the loose. The Friday Street team are then solely focused on tracking down the missing Cathy Calvert before it’s too late. As Abbott had touted No Offence as a comedy cop show I did feel that he’d sacrifice the police procedural element of the plot in favour of the jokes. But in fact I found the plot about the Down’s syndrome girls to be more compelling that a lot of the central narrative threads in some other recent crime dramas. I did feel that the topic was certainly a tricky one for Abbott to tackle but thought he did sensitively whilst at the same time presenting a modern look at one Down’s syndrome couple. This central story built up beautifully to a final sequence involving Dinah once again rushing into danger and the team engaging in a chase with the vehicle that they believed contained Cathy.
Although I really enjoyed No Offence there were some aspects of it that needed a bit of fine tuning. For one thing I did feel that outside of the drama’s central trio, a lot of the secondary characters were woefully underwritten. One example of this would be Spike (Will Mellor), a Jack-the-lad Detective who really has very little to do other than making sad eyes at Dinah. Meanwhile the brilliant Paul Ritter is only allowed to shine briefly in a handful of scenes as the slightly creepy pathologist Randolph Miller. It’s a shame as Ritter seems to be one member of the cast who excels at delivering Abbott’s dialogue as is witnessed when he reels off a monologue about iron filings. Another issue I had with this first episode in particular is that it seemed very keen to show itself off and therefore at times felt slightly rushed. While I understand the need for Abbott and his team to properly showcase all that No Offence had to offer, I would’ve liked a few more scenes like the ones we were given at Dinah’s house in which we got to see another side to the characters.
If No Offence can iron out these issues then there’s every chance that it could stack itself up next to Abbott’s already impressive body of work. With a unique style, the perfect balance of comedy and drama and a fine sense of location; No Offence has already marked itself out as different from every other British TV drama this year. Particularly memorable were the performances from Scanlan and Cassidy who balanced each other out as the larger-than-life Deering and the all-action Dinah. I’m just hoping that No Offence can build on the promise that it showed in this opener and go on to become the jet black comedy cop show that Paul Abbott first envisioned when he sat down to write it.
No Offence continues Tuesday nights at 9pm on Channel 4.