The QT

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Boxing Clever – The Responder

Every week, Michael Telfer – aka Mike TV – recommends a box set to crack open. This week’s he’s pulling an all-nighter on the mean streets of Merseyside.
The Responder
The Responder
Martin Freeman as Chris Carson in The Responder

Martin Freeman has come along way since his breakthrough role as Tim in The Office, the Slough based straight man in a workplace staffed by fools and maniacs, who perfected the desperate, wan smile into the camera.

He was then famously Dr Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, and went on to star in huge Hollywood films such as The Hobbit Trilogy and have a recurring role in the Marvel Universe.

All of which makes his appearance in The Responder, a stark and gritty BBC police drama, something of a wonderful anomaly.

In The Responder Freeman plays Chris Carson, a miserable, down on his luck, pretty crappy dad who is stuck on night shift patrol duty in Liverpool Centre. It should be too bleak to watch, but thanks to Freeman’s fantastic performance and wonderful writing by ex-merseyside policeman Tony Schumacher it somehow isn’t.

In the first season Chris is partnered with Rachel Hargreaves (Adelayo Adedayo), a rookie probationary officer whose idealism and enthusiasm rub him up almost as much as his corner-cutting and pessimism infuriate her.

When young ‘scally’ Casey (Emily Fairn) steals and then loses a bag of drugs belonging to local dealer Carl Sweeney (Ian Hart) it places Chris in a difficult position. His last remaining professional instincts tell him to protect Casey, but Carl is his childhood friend and occasional paymaster.

Chris (Martin Freeman) and Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo) argue finer points of modern policing

The Responder is messy, uncompromising, unflinching television. We see the main characters repeatedly make bad decisions in bad circumstances, and yet it is engrossing and captivating.

Season two sees Chris desperate to change his life, and seemingly willing to do almost anything to secure a day job within the force that would allow him to be a better father to his daughter.

This willingness to do almost anything is taken to the extreme when a former colleague enlists him to help her out of a hole; a hole that Chris quickly finds himself at the bottom of, armed only with a shovel.

The violence is graphic, the language is appropriately blue for a police drama, and the many issues resulting from years of underfunding of the police and key social support networks are laid painfully bare.

The Responder
Casey (Emily Fairn) seeks help from Chris (Martin Freeman)

And yet there is also genuine warmth. Just as we think Chris is irredeemable we see him share a cup of tea with a lonely timewaster. These moments of kindness and compassion break up the episodes nicely and are a key part of The Responder’s curious charm.

Freeman is brilliant throughout. His scouse accent is impeccable and his ability to physically convey the inner turmoil Carson continuously faces with a remarkable array of ticks, grimaces and sighs is incredible, and elevates The Responder from a good drama to unmissable television.

Adelayo Adedayo is also fantastic, and Rachel’s hate, love, hate relationship with Chris is realistic and absorbing.

The first season aired on BBC in 2022 and the second season recently landed on the iPlayer. It’s by no means an easy watch but once you take the plunge you’ll be very glad you did.

What next?

If you enjoyed The Responder you should try out the following box sets:

Happy Valley (BBC iPlayer)

It is starting to get slightly embarrassing how often Happy Valley appears in this column, and if you still haven’t watched it then I can’t help but wonder why you’re still here. It’s certainly not for the hunting as the old joke goes.

That said, if you liked The Responder, then Happy Valley is an entirely logical and obvious recommendation.

Gritty crime drama? Check. Fantastic writing? Check. Incredible lead performance? Double check.

Sherlock (BBC iPlayer)

If you’re after another Martin Freeman boxed set, then where better to turn than Sherlock, the show that elevated him to TV Royalty alongside Benedict Cumberbatch.

The affable accomplice Dr Watson is certainly less of a stretch than Chris Carson, but Sherlock is a fantastically produced modern take on the long loved Conan Doyle stories.

Later series may have been slightly silly and self indulgent, but the first few were fantastic.

Unforgotten (ITV X)

Unforgotten is a procedural drama that follows a team of London detectives led by DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) as they reopen years old cold cases of disappearance and murder.

Each season tells the story of one case over six episodes, and sees the detectives trying to unravel a variety of mysteries that often involve several suspects with no apparent links to each other.

Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar are brilliant throughout.

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