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The Responder series two review – another total TV triumph
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The Responder series two review – another total TV triumph

Two years ago, the former police officer and debut screenwriter Tony Schumacher gave us five of the most riveting and harrowing hours of television there have been for many years. The Responder was the story of Chris Carson (a career-best performance from Martin Freeman), a man slowly being driven to despair by the pressures of his job as a frontline officer answering emergency calls on night shift and the futility of trying to hold back the tide of crime perpetuated mostly by people who are desperate, destitute or mentally ill. “It’s like playing whack-a-mole,” he said. “Except the moles wear trackies. Every night, there’s blood on my boots and spit on my face and it never, ever stops.”

There was a compelling, perfectly worked plot involving a missing bag of drugs and Chris’s corrupt connection with a local drug dealer who was murdered in pursuit of the vanished stash. But the meat of the thing, its genius, was the credible deterioration of Chris and the portrait the series painted of a society at the point of breakdown.

Now, Chris is back in that rarest of things: a second season that feels earned by the quality of what went before and also unforced. The original ended neatly, but credibly, without anyone’s personal stories ending. The new five-part drama feels natural and – given the unspent potential – necessary.

It starts about six months on from the original events. Chris is still separated from his wife, Kate (MyAnna Buring), still on the oppressive night shift and desperately trying to get the day job that would stop Kate moving to London with their daughter for a better quality of life. He is attending weekly group therapy. The sessions are exquisitely painful vignettes of frustration, emblematic of the dearth of help available to people with mental health problems (and the perpetual inadequacy of good intentions).

When he learns that he is essentially barred from the day job he has told Kate he has already got, Chris becomes reluctantly embroiled with his old partner Deb Barnes (Amaka Okafor), who promises him a day job in her office if he helps her with a drugs case. This grey area rapidly darkens to deepest black. In addition, he is forced to re-engage with his estranged, abusive father (Bernard Hill, in quietly mesmerising mode) and you can practically see the memories corroding Chris further at every meeting.

Most of the rest of the superb supporting cast from season one is back, too. There are the chaos magnets Casey (Emily Fairn) and Marco (Josh Finan), this time dreaming of making their fortunes as drug dealers and still nowhere near savvy or ruthless enough to pull it off, even with the help of Carl Sweeney’s fearsome widow, Jodie (Faye McKeever). Most affectingly, there is the return of Chris’s on-off patrol partner Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo), who becomes more involved in Chris’s rapidly-escalating-to-criminal activities than she did in season one, while also trying to cope with the effects of the domestic abuse we saw her endure last time.

As written and as played, it is a fine, fine depiction of where such experiences leave the victims – of how many ways such trauma can manifest itself, from detachment to obsessive thoughts to self-harm, all while presenting a reasonable face to the world. Rachel has failed the sergeant’s exam since we last saw her and, like Chris, is desperate to get off night shifts. Her plot line may be secondary, but all the psychological astuteness and attention to detail that is paid to Chris’s unravelling is rightly and refreshingly paid here, too.

Schumacher maintains his tight control everywhere. The Responder unfolds as the first season did, like a classical tragedy, with the unswerving sense of inevitability. There are so many ways for people to be trapped and the claustrophobia builds with virtually every scene. The bleakness is shot through with great, funny lines (Jodie’s hatred of the children in the ice-cream parlour she set up in an effort to go straight could fuel a spin-off sitcom), but it remains a study in harm. The harm we do to ourselves, to our children and to a society when we deprive it, little by little, year after year, generation after generation, of everything that is necessary for it to thrive. It’s another matchless piece, in other words. A triumph for all involved.

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Source: theguardian.com