Why we need more bold drama like No Offence to stop mainstream TV being too safe

Creating brave TV like Paul Abbott's cop drama isn't a criminal act, says Alison Graham

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No Offence is the kind of cop show I could happily watch every week, year in and year out. It’s bracing and acerbic, a drama that kicks you in the shins and slaps you around the face before offering you a bar of chocolate to make you feel better.

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It was created by Paul Abbott, writer of my favourite-ever television thriller, State of Play, and Shameless. And Clocking Off. And Touching Evil. And Linda Green. And let’s not forget the May/ September adulterous romance Reckless from 1997, starring Robson Green and Francesca Annis. During one recent, very guilty, weekend a friend and I watched all six episodes back to back. We loved it, even though we felt that, somehow, we shouldn’t. But that’s Abbott for you. Always full of surprises.

No Offence, a nicely ironic title because it is offensive – language, behaviour, sex, everything – is aggressively female-centred. Its lead cops are three women, the boss, Detective Inspector Viv Deering (Joanna Scanlan), her new young sergeant Joy Freers (Alexandra Roach) and a very clever, instinctive detective constable, Dinah Kowalska (Elaine Cassidy).

The humour is the colour of tar, and the crimes are tough. The running story that weaves through No Offence’s eight episodes involves the hunt for a serial murderer of women with Down’s syndrome. Viv Deering is outrageously inappropriate (there was a scene in the first episode involving an “intimate” deodorant that only Abbott could ever have got away with).

But I love that sort of fearlessness. Mainstream television can too often be a frightened little bunny, curling into a ball if it thinks anyone might be offended by anything too rude/upsetting, which I really hope won’t lead us to a place where the only really mucky/violent and directly challenging stuff will be American and only on satellite channels (The Affair, True Detective). Or Scandinavian (The Bridge, 1864).

What I like about No Offence is that it dares us to be shocked, but not in a gratuitous way. A killer with a Down’s syndrome fetish is delicate territory indeed and could be beyond the pale.

But, though Viv does lapse into one very brief jolt of wrongness (she uses an unacceptable word in a moment of fury), there’s nothing gimmicky about the scenario. The dead women are victims, rather than “victims with Down’s syndrome”. As the mother of the killer’s latest target says tearfully to Dinah, “She’s a person, not someone to be pitied.”

Brilliantly, actors with Down’s syndrome are fully involved in the series and they aren’t patronised or made to look pathetic or disadvantaged. There’s a boldness about No Offence that is winning and which is typical of Abbott, whose presence hovers even over episodes he didn’t write. It reminds me of the French cop show Spiral, which was unflinching and had that same seam of black comedy.

Since the demise of The Bill there’s been no “precinct” cop show on television and, as some- one brought up with Z Cars and Softly, Softly, this makes me sad. (But then, maybe we don’t need one now that the real police are so keen to call in cameras – Fraud Squad, The Detectives – to show us how it’s really done.)

Fans of hospital dramas get their weekly fixes of Casualty and Holby City, what about us crime fans? How about being bold, Channel 4? Go, on, give us No Offence every week. 

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No Offence continues on Tuesdays at 9pm on Channel 4

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Meet the cast and characters of No Offence

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No Offence guys but the women are the best thing about Paul Abbott’s new police drama say viewers