Bulletproof, a British cop show produced by cable channel Sky, is now on The CW in the US, a year after it premiered in the UK. On the surface, it looks like a generic cop show but when you dig at it, it becomes something much stranger.
The show was created by stars Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters, with genre filmmaker Nick Love recruited as co-creator and writer and director. Both Clarke and Walters are actors in demand, and both have appeared on Doctor Who in the past. Clarke has also become an award-winning writer, producer and director over the years.
The show’s plot is utterly generic. We’ve seen all of these tropes before in 70’s and 80’s cop shows. It doesn’t do anything new or surprising with the genre. On the surface, it feels no different from recent US cop shows like Lethal Weapon or L.A.’s Finest. The difference is you get the strong feeling that Clarke, Walters and Love absolutely, unapologetically love the genre.
Buddy Cop Clichés, Ahoy!
Clarke and Walters both declared their love for buddy cop movies like Lethal Weapon and Bad Boys. You get the feeling they just really, really wanted to play cops and robbers, running around with guns on the streets of London. The show relishes every single cop show cliché you can think of – the dead witness, the shootouts, the car chases, betrayals, mildly angsty cops going on the edge tropes. They love every moment of bromance banter, every chance they get to pose with guns. Nick Love, a fairly talented director of crime and gangster movies, shows no interest in anything deeper than filming shootouts and car chases that define the genre… and all on a small British TV budget.
They even keep the unreconstructed sexism of old cops shows. Girlfriends and wives are just there to prop up the heroes. There’s also a lot of fridging. The pilot features a hapless female informant getting killed within minutes just so the heroes can get mad and go after her killers. Another girlfriend gets fridged in naked emotional manipulation. Of course, Walter’s wife has to be taken hostage to up the stakes.
This is a show with a lot of over-qualified talent punching below their weight.
The show has geek credentials behind the scenes: both Clarke and Walters have appeared on Doctor Who. Fans will remember Clarke played Rose Tyler’s boyfriend Mickey Smith. Walters guest-starred as a space scavenger in the 7th series with the 13th Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Clara (Jenna Coleman). Lashanna Lynch plays Walters’ wife here and she went on to play Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel. Clarke Peters, best known for playing Lester Freamon on The Wire, plays Walters’ senior cop father.
So Much London
There’s a surreal dissonance in cops running around South London waving guns and getting into shootouts in ways that never, ever happen in real life. Same goes for the car chases that Love stages with so much relish. This is because this stuff doesn’t happen in London. Cops do not carry guns in the UK except special armed units. If you know how narrow the streets are in London, you’ll know how hard it is to have high-speed car chases there. The show picks some of the ugliest parts of South London to film in, which stands in surreal contrast to the glamour of Miami or Los Angeles.
The most interesting parts of the show don’t actually have anything to do with the generic cop show tropes. It’s the bits of London culture that surround the show. The vibe of Clarke and Walters, the mundanity of South London and the theme song are very London. The drum & bass blues rhythms of “All Goes Wrong” by Chase & Status are a uniquely London sound that you don’t hear in US pop music. Its music video reveals the preoccupations of London Lad Culture whose absence I notice when I’m not in the UK. It might as well be in the same universe as the show.
The show is odd for The CW, but summer programming on US TV often gets odd and obscure. If you love Bulletproof, good news! Sky has renewed it in the UK.