Every once in a while, you discover a series that really surprises you. For me, the five part British police drama "Line of Duty" was one of those experiences. Having seen so many films and TV shows based on a similar premise (cops coloring outside of the lines and those that would pursue them), I didn't have particularly high expectations that this could provide much new to the topic. I just hoped it would be slick and entertaining. From the get-go, though, this high octane procedural came out of the gate swinging and its intensity never relented. Providing as many, if not more, plot twists and big confrontations than a regular season on traditional network TV, these five parts took me on a complete and satisfying journey. Sure, some of the plot points stretched credibility at times. The lead investigators on both sides are each allowed to behave incredibly unprofessionally without repercussions and the criminal plot threads get particularly convoluted. But I didn't care due to sheer entertainment value. In some ways, my brain is telling me that I should value this experience at 4 stars due to these slight reservations. But I'm rounding my 4 1/2 star rating up instead for the simple reason that "Line of Duty" so supremely exceeded my expectations.
At the beginning of "Line of Duty," we meet Martin Compston as DS Steve Arnott. Working with a counter-terrorism unit, a mission goes horribly awry and he is left to twist in the wind when he won't back an untruthful cover story. This principled, though incredibly unpopular, stand leads to an appointment in the British equivalent of Internal Affairs. His attention is focused on the city's most decorated officer, DCI Tony Gates (played with great swagger by Lennie James). James' successful stats are especially high and he works a team with seeming autonomy. The other lead is the ambitious DC Kate Fleming (Vicky McClure) who appears to have an agenda of her own. A series of brutal murders rock the drug world and a random hit and run with a car reported stolen figure prominently in early episodes. Although married, James is involved in an affair with a wealthy entrepreneur (the reliable Gina McKee). On closer inspection, she might be involved in some unpleasant dealings of her own. I won't reveal any major plot points. Suffice it to say, all of the disparate plot threads intertwine with efficiency and James is in the middle of it all. As James and Compston square off repeatedly, maybe the bigger crimes will devour them both.
"Line of Duty" is gritty, fast paced, and holds plenty of surprises. Each episode ends with a pretty significant cliffhanger and the finale wraps things up with precision. There is quite a bit of violence in "Line of Duty" and much of it caught me unaware. In dramas of this kind, I always feel that I know exactly where the story is headed. Here, I felt slightly more uncertain. Compston, with his puppy dog looks and big eyebrows, has a quiet intensity that works. As he is pushed to extremes, it could sometimes become a little too one note. McClure navigates a difficult role (note: I didn't say much about her, that's for you to find out) effectively and believably. And the supporting cast is nicely drawn and memorable. From the street toughs to the front line officers, the smaller roles had surprising depth and dimension which helped distinguish this piece immensely. And then there is James. A great character actor who has been in almost everything (currently a lead on AMC's new Low Winter Sun), James is absolutely magnetic. A real antihero whom you don't know whether you should root for or despise, he will definitely keep you guessing. "Line of Duty" may not necessarily be the best show I've seen this year, but it is easily one of the most entertaining. KGHarris, 8/13.