Grizzled police officers of the old school should probably avoid Channel 4’s Night Coppers for reasons of blood pressure. Like most documentary series with close access to the police, this one paints them in a light so favourable as to be almost comically sycophantic. The trouble for those grizzled types is that – the times being as they are – what’s now considered favourable is to make the rozzers who patrol Brighton after dark all seem like that pathologically liberal Dutch cop played by Paul Whitehouse in the late 1990s.
Not that this is a reference which most of the officers featured in Wednesday’s opening episode would get – largely because they hadn’t been born by then. The first we met was Will, 22, whose years in the force are outnumbered by his ear piercings, and who’s regularly greeted by the locals with cries of ‘Does your mum know you’re out?’ and ‘I’ve got pubes older than you’. ‘People take one look at you and think you’ve got zero authority,’ Will told us ruefully.
Luckily, those people are wrong – as we saw in an early scene when his authority was fully deployed on a man who’d been drunkenly throwing bottles at passing cars. ‘You need to be mindful at how you’re behaving,’ Will advised him firmly, before adding in a gentler tone, ‘You’re good to go.’ And with that, Will got back into a police car adorned with a rainbow and the words ‘Sussex Pride’.
Even he, mind you, thinks policemen are looking younger these days, not least 20-year-old Matt, whose mum definitely knows when he’s out because he lives with her. Matt, too, favours the gentle touch – although he was responsible for one of the rare moments of genuine police indignation here, when he realised that his drive-through burger had been served with hardly any onions. (Naturally, he didn’t complain.)
Completing the central trio of unfeasibly youthful-looking members of Brighton’s finest was Sophie, who we first saw watching a young woman lurching out of control on the pavement. ‘I like her blue dress,’ Sophie remarked cheerfully. ‘Not sure about the white boots.’ Like the others, she spends most of the time dealing with drunks, often violent ones. Nonetheless, her view of human beings remains impressively sympathetic. These are not, she believes, ‘bad people’, just ‘people who do bad things’ – which is why ‘I feel sorry for everybody all the time’.
Fans of a tougher policing approach might have had their hopes raised by Steve, a heavily muscled and tattooed older cop who lamented how few of his colleagues had heard of Only Fools and Horsesand, in Matt’s case, didn’t know what a DVD player was either. Sadly, such hopes were dashed when Steve came across a man who’d fallen off his bike into some bushes. To begin with, he sounded almost stern as he informed the man of the illegality of cycling drunk. But after the bloke weepingly declared that he was going through a divorce, Steve soon changed tack, helping him lock up his bike safely and sending him off on foot with all best wishes. Much to his regret, though, there was one service Steve couldn’t provide. ‘I’m not going to give you a cuddle,’ he explained apologetically, ‘because of Covid and all that malarky.’
Meanwhile, Breeders suggests that parents aren’t quite the authority figures they once were either. The third series began where the second left off, with dad Paul (Martin Freeman) having been forced to leave the family home on the grounds that his bad temper was exacerbating 13-year-old Luke’s anxiety issues. As he waited for his son to grant permission for him to return, Paul holed up in his mother-in-law’s house while she was away. More troublingly still, he realised that he was having a pretty great time, hanging out with Alexa over a leisurely breakfast instead of scrambling to get the children ready for school, and embarking on a confidence-boosting flirtation with a female neighbour.
When it began, Breedersfor my money rather overdid Paul’s sweary anger, perhaps in a slightly self-conscious bid to distance itself from the mainstream niceness of Outnumbered. (Basically he seemed too good a dad to be that bad a dad.) Yet, while this tendency hasn’t completely gone away, on the whole the show now achieves a winning balance between poignancy and laughs. It also helps that the scripts are so reliably witty, and that Freeman and Daisy Haggard are both terrific as the beleaguered parents. Personally, I still think Outnumbered is a more realistic picture of unashamedly middle-class London family life. On the other hand, it’s not being made any more – and Breeders is filling the gap with increasingly enjoyable aplomb.
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