Merseyside Police’s PC Chris Carson is a police response officer. That means he responds to 999 calls. He also, as we quickly see here in the outstanding new BBC One drama The Responder, responds to his job in a very emotional way too.
Chris – a career best Martin Freeman – is on the edge. To the point of losing his balance and falling off the cliff. And so burnt out he’s practically just smoking embers. His is a physically and emotionally draining job and he’s not coping well with it. He can no longer see the point of his incredibly stressful job, either: ‘It’s just whack-a-mole,’ he tells his work counsellor during talking therapy. ‘Except the moles wear trackies. Every night, there’s spit on my face and blood on my boots. And it never stops.’
Put like that, it certainly sounds like a rather exhausting and demanding job. Then we’re shown it and it is. It’s also one which looks capable of taking a sizeable psychological toll on a person. This, it seems, will be the focus of the piece.
‘I wanna be a good bobby. I wanna do good things.’ It’s another crucial insight into Chris’s psyche during his counselling that reveals what looks to be the crux of the series.
Chris’s colleagues either dislike him or tolerate him based on how good he used to be as a DS – before he was, presumably, demoted, which we’ll no doubt find out all about soon enough. His family love him, but we know it’s only a matter of time before things come to a head between him and his wife Kate (MyAnna Buring, Ripper Street).
Deep down, we sense that Chris is a good man with a moral compass. He’s just become jaded and lost his way. Being ‘mates’ with a local drug dealer doesn’t help his good bobby credentials much, though. His relationship with crim Carl Sweeney will propel the plot forward over the next four parts. Carl is played with snarling glee by Ian Hart in a Fred Perry/curly wig combo that makes him look like an angry John Power from the ’90s Britpop band Cast.
To that plot, and it involves a local ‘baghead’ called Casey, played by the excellent Emily Fairn. She’s ripped Carl off and stolen a rather significant amount of cocaine from him. Chris is asked to find her for Carl ‘as a favour’. When he ignores the request, it becomes more of an instruction. Then when Chris refuses to hand her over when it’s obvious Carl and his goons intend to hurt Casey, Chris drives her away and tries to convince her to leave the city.
She doesn’t, of course. All Chris has done has upset Carl. The man’s hair may be slightly ridiculous, but he’s an intimidating prospect nonetheless. Overall – it’s not something that’s likely to help Chris’s ever-worsening mental health.
The script comes from a screenwriter making his television debut, a man called Tony Schumacher. He’s a former police officer, which explains why The Responder is just so realistic. This feels less like a Line of Duty-style thriller than it does a Channel 4 fly-on-the-wall documentary series.
The script is tight, clever and funny, while the direction is lean, unfussy and sharp. Supporting performances are all on point. None of that will likely be remembered, though – only this is all about Martin Freeman. Even just one episode in and it feels like a notable and award-winning performance.
Freeman’s Liverpudlian accent is perfectly observed and executed and he pulls off vulnerability while still being street tough with impressive delicacy. PC Carson doesn’t throw his weight around like Jack Regan in The Sweeney or Vic Mackey in The Shield, but when he casually slaps a local weed dealer multiple times or tells a repeat nuisance 999 caller that he’ll ‘f***ing kill him’, you do sense he’s capable of doing something terrible.
The Responder could be a big hit for the BBC. It looks as if critics and audiences alike have responded very positively to it anyway. As well they should. Barely a month into the year and the BBC have treated us to what looks almost certain to be one of the very best drama series of the year. With this and The Tourist, they’ve come flying out of the blocks in 2022.
Did you tune in for The Responder episode 1? If so, tell us what you made of this new police drama below…
Still catching up on The Responder episode 2? Read Steve’s review of episode 1 here.
It’s safe to say that things are pretty stressful at work for PC Chris Carson. Already on the verge of some sort of mental health break, the stress of being a police response officer is getting to him. A spate of night shifts – during which he’s embroiled in a drug rip-off, seeing him tasked with finding an addict and a large bag of cocaine by a local drug dealer – isn’t helping. Nor do any of the increasingly serious threats that come his way from that very dealer.
Add into the mix a seemingly never-ending series of dicey situations that result in 100mph dashes, flying fists, swords cutting through the air and even beds being set alight and you can see why Chris might be a bit edgy. And that’s before his worsening family life, history of abuse, dying mother or humiliating demotion at work have been thrown into the mix.
So as PC Carson tries to juggle all this while finding the elusive Casey, the last thing he needs is a wet-behind-the-ears, by-the-book partner for the rest of his week of night shifts. That’s exactly what he gets though, in the shape of newly-qualified PC Rachel Hargreaves (Adelayo Adedayo, The Capture).
The pair of them find themselves called out to a series of incidents on this second night shift of the series, all of them – somehow – related to the tracking down of Casey. Rachel may be naive, but she’s not daft. She soon senses there’s something afoot when it becomes clear that her temporary new partner has zero interest in arresting or taking statements from anyone. All he’s concerned about is roughing folk up and barking at them about where the girl is.
So many of the scenes here feel individual, unique and interesting. Too many police dramas or ‘thrillers’ are happy to spend all their time in suspects’ living rooms and interrogation rooms. So far, just two hours into The Responder and we’ve been treated to various memorable locations, such as Trevor’s high-rise flat, the creepy candle lit house of Kevin’s and the huge illegal rave run by a character called ‘Smiggy’. Kudos to the location manager here. Let’s hope that’s kept up throughout the next three parts.
Martin Freeman continues to impress in the lead. Given its setting and intensity, it’s a part that seems written for Stephen Graham. Slightly against type, Freeman’s come in and made it his own. He’s a revelation. Ian Hart continues to do good things as the alternately snarling/superficially charming drug dealer Carl. While Adelayo Adedayo provides a useful moral centre to the story as PC Rachel Hargreaves.
Then there are a few other familiar faces such as Warren Brown (Luther, Strike Back) and MyAnna Buring (The Witcher, In the Dark). Plus a smattering of ‘who’s that?!’ character actors including David Bradley (Harry Potter) as Davey, Victor McGuire (Jack Boswell in Bread) as Trevor and Michael Starke (Sinbad from Brookside) as Kevin.
Aside from Freeman’s brilliant performance, the two parts that really stand out are Casey and Marco. TV newcomers Emily Fairn and Josh Finan take serious command of their roles; you’d think they’d been appearing in top dramas for years.
We ended with Chris in something of a moral quandary. He wants to be ‘a good copper’. He wants to help Casey. He also wants his family to be safe. But as a man who seems to be edging towards a psychological breakdown, who would back him to do the right thing now he has possession of a holdall packed full of uncut white powder? One with – presumably – quite a high street value.
We’ll find out next week…
Did you tune in for The Responder episode 2? If so, tell us what you made of this new police drama below…
Still catching up on The Responder episode 3? Read Steve’s review of episode 2 here.
As we join the third of the scheduled five shifts following Merseyside Police responder PC Chris Carson, we find him continuing to spin plates during a week of nights. As we do, we really begin to feel his stress levels go through the roof. This is a man truly on the edge.
In much the same way that Netflix’s critically-acclaimed film Uncut Gems did in 2019, The Responder immerses the viewer quite spectacularly, dragging us through each and every scene with the main character. Almost in real time, as the situation gets more complicated and the anxiety heightens, you feel like you’re involved yourself. It’s claustrophobic, it’s nerve-wracking and it’s incredible drama. This isn’t passive entertainment.
While we find ourselves passing the midway point of this first series – surely it’s likely to get recommissioned – things just get more and more complicated for Martin Freeman’s Chris. We open with him sighing as he remembers taking the bag packed with drugs home and dutifully trots off to sign it into the evidence room at work. That easy solution goes by the wayside pre-titles when he reconsiders his move and drives off with the powder back in the boot of his car. Oh, dear.
We’re sure Chris thinks he’s doing the right thing for his family, but trying to broker a drug deal under the nose of his new rookie partner Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo) while the colleague who got him demoted rekindles an affair with his wife AND recruits said partner to spy on him… It’s all a bit stressful. Plus there’s his involuntary ‘therapy’ sessions which seem to cause him more psychological toil. And then there’s his beloved mother who’s dying of cancer.
So when wife Kate kicks him out of the house, Chris comes close to that ‘nothing to lose’ moment and unwisely pitches up to a drug deal which, as they so often do on television and in movies, goes quite terribly wrong. Chris makes it out, but old pal Carl (Ian Hart) isn’t quite so lucky.
It turns out that the ‘drugs’ aren’t drugs, after all. After all that chasing around, the bag is packed full of Daz. The real consignment is back with the deceptively shrewd Casey and the slightly less shrewd Marco. Can they find a buyer or will Liverpool’s criminal element catch up with them too?
A policeman who swears he’s good but tries to sell a holdall full of ‘cocaine’. A drug dealer who swears he’s bad who can’t face betraying his oldest mate. A holier-than-thou new police recruit letting her boyfriend and his friends off a drug charge. A local GP, Dr Diane Gallagher (Christine Tremarco – Little Boy Blue, Safe House), who’s seemingly also a local drug boss…
Notions of good and evil are heavily blurred here in The Responder. Morality isn’t binary and that’s brilliantly explored. We’re not quite sure how things will unfurl and resolve themselves here in the final two episodes. What we are sure of, however, is that it’ll be unexpected, entertaining and involving.
Did you tune in for The Responder episode 3? If so, tell us what you made of this new police drama below…
Still catching up on The Responder episode 4? Read Steve’s review of episode 3 here.
While PC Chris Carson’s work and bag of drugs-based issues don’t seem to be getting any easier, and it looks like his mum is entering her very final chapter, at least his family life might be fixable. A phone call with wife Kate near the end of this fourth episode ended with declarations of love that seem to suggest, with a little work, there’s at least hope on that front.
But just as there looks to be light at the end of the tunnel for Martin Freeman’s PC Carson, he finds himself in serious trouble indeed. We ended episode 4 with Chris squished into the back of a car and driven off to see the big boss lady. Or maybe even her boss. We did, after all, get a glimpse of weakness from Dr Diane Gallagher here as she made a phone call to someone after Ray Mullen got a name out of her. Do we have A Big Bad Guy to deal with in the final episode? One who’s down £100,000? It seems to be the case. And that’s not likely good news for our Chris.
Of course, it’s all about tracking down the holdall that Casey and Marco are flinging about town. A sale to an old fella called Billy fell down here when the crim (played by The Full Monty’s Dave Hill) rejected Casey’s grandad’s overtures because he ‘knows who it belongs to’… Things are going to get dicey for Casey and Marco in Wednesday night’s final part, aren’t they?
Speaking of the supporting cast of characters, Rachel has grown into the show, hasn’t she? From bland goody two shoes to brave and complex potential ally of Chris, we’re keen to see how her situation with her vile boyfriend Steve (Philip Barantini, Boiling Point) resolves itself. She’s going to need to summon some of the strength she demonstrated when dealing with Ray ‘Willy Wonka’ Mullen in the cafe scene here (‘you owe me two slices of toast, lad!’).
The Responder continues to impress as it reaches its climax. It’s focused on its main plot and yet capable of supplying multiple other story-lines that are carried by well-written and believable characters. The story moves along all while jerking us from one unexpected scene and wild character to another.
Be honest, who expected a Catholic priest called Liam Neeson – played by Game On’s Matthew Cottle – to slowly and drunkenly crash-drive a hatchback down the high street here? Then stumble out of the car with his trousers round his ankles, confessing to having downed a ‘bucketful of vodka’ and ‘paid young men to…’ Well, you can imagine the rest.
You’d never guess that The Responder’s writer/creator Tony Schumacher was a TV first timer. This is assured, layered and clever stuff from the former policeman-turned-screenwriter. We’re hoping for a second series of this, but we’ll happily take anything new from this emerging talent.
First things first, we’ve the finale of this first series of The Responder to enjoy. Unlike so many TV crime dramas of the past few years, we genuinely have no idea how it’ll resolve itself. And that’s pretty exciting.
Did you tune in for The Responder episode 4? If so, tell us what you made of this new police drama below…
Still catching up on The Responder episode 5? Read Steve’s review of episode 4 here.
Already a contender for TV crime drama of 2022, BBC One’s brilliant Liverpool-set police thriller The Responder reached its climax on Wednesday evening, after five hours of nerve-jangling excellence.
Following a week of incredibly stressful night shifts in a row for a police responder and his rookie new partner, this Martin Freeman-starring series has been a huge treat so early in the telly calendar. Here’s hoping it’s not forgotten in December when people are discussing their shows of the year.
Freeman is outstanding in every single scene he’s in, easily deserving of at least a BAFTA nomination for his work here. The supporting cast are terrific across the board too – special mentions go to Emily Fairn, Josh Finan and Adelayo Adedayo – while the cinematography and sound were both several levels above what you might expect. But The Responder’s true quality lies in its truly exceptional writing.
You’d never know it to watch the thing, but this is creator Tony Schumacher’s first writing gig. Yet it comes with the dramatic assurance of a Jimmy McGovern script, with all the vicious wit of a writer like In Bruges’ Martin McDonagh.
While it’s served up with a brushed polish and sheen, there’s still a slightly grubby feeling of realism that permeates the series. The reason being is that Schumacher used to be a police officer. And in Liverpool too. So not only does he know how to write and how to be a copper, he knows the city he writes about as well. It’s something that shines through at every turn.
As for the resolution of the story, we’ll spare the finer details for anyone yet to catch the finale. Suffice to say that – despite how it may have appeared at several points – there’s definite scope for a second series. Everything was resolved satisfactorily for all concerned. At least for the time being, anyway…
The Gallaghers are off Chris’ back, Carl’s wife is set up and able to leave the city, Rachel is free of Steve, Casey and Marco are still alive, Ray is back in his box and Chris is not only still in a job but reunited with his family too. All is well. For now.
Are we likely to see a return of PCs Chris Carson and Rachel Hargreaves for a second run of The Responder? Well, viewing figures and on demand watches have been decent, while critics reviews were universally gushing. So here’s hoping. The Responder couldn’t have hoped for a better response.
Did you tune in for The Responder episode 5? If so, tell us what you made of this new police drama below…