The sharply styled Lexus IS compact executive saloon is sponsoring drama on Channel 4 this year, and to mark the tie-up, we’re taking a look at the boundary-pushing shows associated with the bold model – beginning with satirical crime thriller ‘Babylon’.
The best television is ambitious. If you want to stop a TV audience from zapping to another channel – and there are quite a few alternatives to be had these days, even if you don’t have satellite or cable service – you need to engage them quickly with something that will grip them or make them laugh.
Writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong took the latter route for the first few minutes of Babylon, Channel 4’s new comedy drama. You can’t blame them: they’re already responsible for successful comedies Peep Show and Fresh Meat, so they have form, as a character in the police-based show might say.
But Babylon is not in any way a case of so far, so formulaic. This is not The Thin Blue Line, by any stretch. Because while the gentle satire quotient is very much in evidence in the feature-length pilot for a series that will be screened later in the year, so is a strong thread of dark drama that exposes the reality of what London’s Metropolitan Police has to contend with on an almost-daily basis.
So there are lots of gags and sharp dialogue, but there’s also a police firearms officer with post-traumatic stress disorder and a sniper randomly shooting people on the streets of the capital.
But one of the most appealing aspects of Babylon is that, like the sniper, the writers take aim at a number of targets: the police, TV programme makers, politicians, the 24-hour news cycle and the modern obsession with news management. This might ostensibly be a cop show – albeit, for a fresh twist, one without detectives – but it’s not afraid to include other TV genres into its mix.
Ultimately, however, it’s the successful balance of comedy and drama that allows Babylon to stand out from the noise of modern multi-channel TV. It’s a difficult balance to pull off: managing to portray a police commissioner who has to make the worst house call possible just after making you snigger at an impersonation of the Mayor of London takes real talent.
Babylon is indeed ambitious, but if you combine established writing talent, a cast of accomplished actors and a director as experienced as Danny Boyle (of Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire and the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony fame), that ambition should pay off. And, in this case, it certainly does.
Who to look out for
Babylon features an ensemble cast that features numerous impressive performances, but two in particular stand out.
James Nesbitt has made a career out of wielding his roguish charm, but his role as Commissioner Richard Miler is something of a departure, one that he pulls off with authority.
Similarly, American actress Brit Marling – whose previous work has included three movies that she has also co-written – convincingly portrays PR guru Liz Garvey, as a no-nonsense visionary on a mission.
There was a hint at the end of the pilot that something might develop, romantically, between these two leads. Is this a thread too far? We’ll see…
The rest of the series – another five episodes – are set to be filmed in March for screening later in the year, but on the basis of this 90-minute pilot, this is a show that could run for a number of series.
After all, there’s not exactly a shortage of material ripe for satirising.
You can find out more about the Lexus IS range by visiting the designated section of the Lexus UK website. If you’d like to get behind the wheel, leave a comment below, and we can arrange a test drive for you.