White Collar Blue: articles

Police drama cliches run riot

The cop show is surely where cliches move to retire. Few genres are so ridden with or, indeed, so reliant on them. And on page one, volume one, of the cop show's catalogue of unoriginality, is the first and greatest cliche of them all: the old-copper-gets-new-partner storyline.

Every police story since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a lad has featured this chestnut—it is to plod dramas what desperation is to Bill English. So you can imagine the volume of my groan two weeks ago when the new Australian police drama White Collar Blue (TV One 9.30pm) wasted little more than five minutes before launching into Cop Cliche No 1.

No sooner had we met South Sydney detective Joe Hill (Peter O'Brien) than he got the bad news: he's getting a new partner. She's a woman, too—Harriet "Harry" Walker—but the worst of it was that she's a "Fed". Followers of cop shows know you can never trust a Fed.

And so this conversation: "Why me? Put her with someone else," moaned cranky Joe.

"You know you're a great copper," replied his seen-it-all and tough-but-fair boss. "But is your paperwork any good? No. Are you tidy? No. Are you chaotic? Yes."

"Two out of three ain't bad," moaned wise-ass Joe.

To be fair, White Collar Blue does at least break the mould set by Aussie cop shows in the 90s. It's not set in a small town with a crime rate similar to New York. Nor does it involve gadding about in speed boats on Seed-knee Harbour.

And after plunging headlong into predictability in the first 15 minutes, the premiere spent much of the rest of its two hours weaving a tight-knit, competent yarn which gave me hope its writers know something about story-telling.

The death of Walker's undercover cop husband (also a Fed) while investigating a dodgy businessman in Hill's manor led cleanly to a series of tense, effective scenes and revelations about both characters even if it also led to an unlikely denouement: the crook's 18-year-old daughter did it.

The show, despite its appearance of an ensemble, is built firmly around O'Brien's convincing, nicely understated performance as Hill. A former Neighbours stalwart (he was Shane Ramsey), he brings a craggy, easy charm to proceedings.

And the premiere gave us a Hill who was likeable enough. He's tough nut but a doting, divorced father of two, too. He's a detective who knows there are rules but occasionally breaks them so that natural justice prevails.

At episode's end—one directed with an unpretentious flair—I found myself conceding White Collar Blue wasn't half bad.

And then I watched episode two.

What subtlety the show had had in its first outing was entirely missing last week as the writers poured on the cliches, first in a totally unconvincing court scene and then in a ham-fisted plot involving a bent lawyer trying to frame Hill for a beating.

Worse, the homophobic undertow—Hill threatened to expose said lawyer's closet homosexuality to his wife and the world—was really rather appalling.

It was poor use for characters I was rather hoping I might grow to like. And it was a clear example of how important a good script is, even in the cliche world of the cop drama.

by Greg Dixon
November 26, 2002
New Zealand Herald