Line of Duty newbie reviews first episode: Does it hold up in 2020?

As the series gets repeated on BBC One, RadioTimes.com writer David Craig takes his first steps into Line of Duty.

Line of Duty cast (Martin Compston, Adrian Dunbar, Vicky McClure)

At the risk of sounding like an interrogation, I ask: where were you on 26th June 2012? I was celebrating my 15th birthday by doing not very much at all (it was a school night), yet the idea of dedicating an hour to a gritty cop drama seemed unfathomably grown-up. As such, Line of Duty‘s big launch completely passed me by and when the show became a national institution with its move to BBC One in 2017, I felt I had definitively missed the boat.

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Fortunately, an organic opportunity to jump onboard has just arrived, as BBC One prepares to repeat the first series starting from tonight (Monday 3rd August). It’s finally time to learn the story of those three stern police officials, who angrily glare at me in every promo photo for this show. It’s the kind of resentful look you might fire at a noisy group of people in the cinema, although the team at AC-12 keep it bottled up for crooked cops.

It’s not hard to see why Line of Duty quickly garnered attention. The series kicks off with an intense police raid that goes horrifyingly wrong, establishing an aversion to skirting the issues and a tendency to shock from the very beginning. After that botched operation, a “snot-nosed” DS Steve Arnott (Martin Compston) gets transferred to Anti-Corruption Unit 12, working under hardened Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar), who has a tough reputation and an attitude to match.

The target? Detective Chief Inspector Antony Gates (Lennie James), an officer celebrated among peers for his exceptionally high crime figures, but suspected by AC-12 of using dodgy tactics to fudge the numbers. One thing I had wondered about Line of Duty is just how overtly villainous the questionable officer is in each series. So far, James is walking the tightrope well as our arrogant “officer of the year”.

His glory-chasing tactics and nasty elitist comments are certainly condemnable, while his decision to help mistress Jackie (Gina McKee), who is clearly a danger to the public, can only end in disaster. That said, there’s no denying that he’s done some good, racing to defend a mother and her newborn from armed attackers in a scene of genuine heroism. It’s unclear whether his dubious actions torture him for their immorality or merely the risk they pose to his personal livelihood, but at present he appears neither evil nor irredeemable.

Line of Duty stars Lennie James, Martin Compston and Vicky McClure on BBC One
“They’re behind you!”
BBC

It’s hard to predict how his story will progress in the episodes to come, as Line of Duty has already peppered some surprising reveals throughout its first chapter. A couple have proved worrying enough to provoke a little twinge in the chest region that leaves you wanting for more. Unlike the saps watching in 2012, we don’t have to wait a week for answers. BBC One has lined up episode two for tomorrow night, with the option to binge far ahead via iPlayer.

Any lingering reservations? Well, I wonder just how endearing the team at AC-12 can realistically hope to be. So far, their first impression in the aforementioned photo shoot has been more or less accurate. There’s little indication of who these people are outside of their seemingly all-encompassing jobs, best exemplified in a particularly dour exchange between Martin Compston and Vicky McClure on one bleak London night. Will I grow to care for these no-nonsense individuals? Only time will tell.

Nevertheless, this is an undoubtedly strong opener that has aged well and should have no trouble winning over new fans. Its unflinching look at police corruption only seems more timely in today’s climate and the twists in this episode alone have me strapped in for more. Here’s hoping I don’t stumble upon any eight-year-old spoilers.

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Line of Duty is available to stream on BBC iPlayer and Netflix. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our guide to the best TV series on Netflix and best movies on Netflix, or visit our TV Guide.