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Babylon’s keystone coppers lack their dark side

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Issue 2389
James Nesbitt as Met commissioner Richard Miller

James Nesbitt as Met commissioner Richard Miller

A police officer guns down an unarmed civilian in the streets but is restored to duty after completing a basic questionnaire.

It could have come straight from the news pages in wake of the Mark Duggan shooting, but it’s a scene from Babylon, a new satire from director Danny Boyle.

Boyle has teamed up with the writers of Peep Show and creators of Fresh Meat, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, to take a swipe at the Metropolitan Police.

Armstrong co-wrote The Thick of It, which satirised the inner workings of government departments and spin. Babylon is in a similar vein.

The pilot episode takes place over the course of a day and sees the Met trying to handle the fallout of a spree of shootings in London.

It deals with the gunning down of the man, the shooting of a cop—and some unfortunate live tweeting which only makes matters worse.

Former senior Met cop Brian Paddick was a consultant on the show, and the cast also received firearms training.

Yet producer Robert Jones stresses that Babylon is about the “absurdity of real life situations” and is neither “pro-police or anti-police”. 

And so the cops in Babylon aren’t so much institutionally sinister as institutionally hapless.

They are presented as caught up in events seemingly outside of their control. The humour derives from how they respond to these crises.

Yet satire can’t be so uncritical that it does not take a side.

Babylon is subversive in the way it presents police procedure as absurd and inept. The Met and its so-called “culture of openness” get a timely kicking.

But its stance risks also rehabilitating the police as just luckless individuals caught up in the drama of life.   

Babylon, Channel 4, Sunday 9 February, 9pm


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