“I’m too busy stringing people up by the balls from here until Doomsday.”
You won’t find that line in NCIS, Law and Order: Who’s Dead Now? or any number of gentle Australian cop shows who prefer life sunny-side up with a serving of serial killer on the side.
Where you will find it is in No Offence, the British black comedy created by Paul Abbott, who has been ruffling feathers with his mordant, no-holds-barred humour since he first penned Cracker in 1995 and then followed that up with, among others, State of Play and Shameless.
For TV nerds, Abbott is god – his stamp on anything implies you’ll have a good time and it’s precisely why I approached No Offence with glee instead of the looming dread so many cookie-cutter cop shows can induce.
It’s funny, it’s real and it’s full of Abbott’s specialty: strong women who can handle themselves and crack jokes at their own – and everyone else’s – expense.
Case in point is DI Viv Deering, who is in charge of the detectives at Manchester’s Friday Street police station. Played by the brassy Joanna Scanlan, who is best known as the wonderfully useless Terri in comedy The Thick of It, she has no interest in mollycoddling her team and throws around insults – “fetus cop” and “I’ve got more five o’clock shadow than he does” – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If she was anyone else, most of her sentences would come with the disclaimer “No offence”, but they don’t. She means it and I love it.
Deering is also – thankfully – cut from the same cloth as many a gritty female cop before her in British television. She’s big bosomed, big bottomed and she’s real. And while I never want to write about how a woman’s body shape defines her ability to do a role, Deering is more relatable and watchable than any of the hundreds of supermodel actors that populate our screens. She has blood in her hair, wears her undies backwards and, when a colleague is killed, her reaction is “What the f— just happened?” not some vigilante-type response.
It’s that death – and I won’t say who, because this is the first episode of season three – that propels the season forward, as the team investigate a far-right group and their link to the upcoming mayoral elections.Advertisement
And it’s here that you can really see the hallmarks of Abbott’s writing: it’s not just the topline cast who are is strong (although Elaine Cassidy as DI Dinah Kowalska and Alexandra Roach as DI Joy Freers are natural standouts – their easy banter about dating, adoption and full moons opens the episode), even the office filler cops get their moment to shine, such as when dealing with a drunk, homeless suspect. In fact, barely anyone there is miming office busy work – they all have a reason to be there.
And, just like he did in Shameless, Abbott has social issues firmly in his sights, too, from new problems such as Brexit, the rise of the far-right and the “Islamification” of Britain, to old-school drunk brides and their bloodied bridal party. It’s jarring but it’s great.
There are no lessons hammered home in a preachy way – it’s pretty easy to see who’s on the side of right and wrong – and that’s what makes Abbott and No Offence so clever, so watchable. They draw you in, punch you in the gut with truth and humour, and then leave you wanting more.