• Tue. May 30th, 2023

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews TV: Could a social worker cut it as a cop?

Mar 27, 2023

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Could a social worker really cut it as a cop on Belfast’s mean streets?

Blue Lights (BBC1)


Unforgotten (ITV1)


For a dedicated telly addict, almost nothing is too far-fetched. I happily accept that vicars and parish councillors are murdered in surreal ways every day in Midsomer.

And it seems entirely plausible to me that candidates on The Apprentice wake up at 4am, shower, do their hair and make up, dress in power outfits and are ensconced in their limos, all inside 20 minutes.

But there are limits even to my credulity. And I just cannot believe that a former social worker could ever be ideal material for the police.

All the social workers I’ve ever met (and, boy, I’ve met a lot — when you’re the parent of a disabled child, they’re all over you) have shared one key trait. Ask them for any kind of help, and they vanish.

What kind of emergency service would employ people who take a minimum of ten days to reply to an email? Or who only work Mondays, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings . . . when they’re not using up their statutory sick leave, that is.

Grace (Sian Brooke) has quit social work to become a trainee with the police in Belfast, on Blue Lights (BBC1)

These days, most social workers I encounter don’t even bother turning up late for meetings. They send their apologies via Zoom instead.

Grace (Sian Brooke) has quit social work to become a trainee with the police in Belfast, on Blue Lights (BBC1). When we first see her, she’s left her service pistol in the bathroom, where her teenage son has picked it up, which sounds about right: some of these people have degrees in gormless ineptitude.


Spending other players’ money to treat herself to luxuries in the African wilderness, on Tempting Fortune (Ch4), 33- year-old Lani justified herself by yelling, ‘It’s a democracy!’ And she’s right… democracy now means doing as you like, and stuff the rest of them.

But Grace is also courageous, quick-thinking and diligent. And here’s the clincher — she’s got a great sense of humour, and can laugh at herself when her colleagues play pranks. Nothing on Earth will convince me this woman has ever been a social worker.

That aside, Blue Lights is a fast-moving ensemble drama, with a seriously good cast. Richard Dormer plays grizzled old cop Gerry, whose cynicism doesn’t stop him loving the job. John Lynch is gangster James McIntyre, ruling his clan with his fists, and Martin McCann is a wary patrolman, Stevie, who’d rather be in the kitchen perfecting his recipe for honey flapjacks.

Grace’s fellow rookies are Annie (Katherine Devlin), with a temper as volatile as Semtex, and Tommy (Nathan Braniff), who is always last to get a joke, even though he’s meant to be on the promotion fast track.

The action sequences are full of grit and violence, with a mob on every city corner ready to lob bricks and bottles. But there’s a broad streak of humour, too, as the officers sit in their cars bickering over playlists and swapping stories of novices who flunked their training.

DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and his new boss, DCI Jess James (Sinead Keenan) have overcome their instinctive dislike for each other in ITV’s Unforgotten

Just as in real police work, one-liners can help to ease the tension. Walking into a probation hotel where the air was thick with menace, Stevie looked at the obscene graffiti and asked Grace: ‘Is that Shakespeare?’

The police work in Unforgotten (ITV1) is far more genteel. Though suspects in the cold case murder inquiry include a thieving junkie and an aggressive alcoholic, the detectives are just as likely to be chatting to merchant bankers and members of the House of Lords.

DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) and his new boss, DCI Jess James (Sinead Keenan), have overcome their instinctive dislike for each other. They are now a smoothly persuasive interview team — questioning stubborn witnesses so gently that nobody cracks under pressure. Instead, they simply pop open.

The various plotlines that seemed so separate at the beginning have now fused into one, thanks to a couple of writer Chris Lang’s brilliant twists.

Derek Griffiths, once a Play School presenter, made a cameo appearance as a security guard. By telly addict standards, that’s not remotely far-fetched.

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