2 out of 5
Executive Producers: Andy Harries, Francis Hopkinson
Covers seasons 1 through 6
You know why I watch cop shows? For the procedural stuff. For the cop bits. You know why I don’t watch them? For relationship nonsense. I mean, it’s unfortunately inevitable that a show will have X character hump Y because it’s a convenient way to build in drama, and I’m sure it’s in some outdated studio bible somewhere, written in 1901, that there must always be a smoochy subplot, but as long as we can err in favor of cop stuff on cop shows more often than not, I’ll let it fly.
I also have a tendency to start watching shows on their last season. I’ll get intrigued and then start from the top. Sometimes – though rarely – this will result in a satisfying return to the season on which I’d started. More often – a la DCI Banks – I’ll find that I probably would have dropped the show had I watched it from the beginning, and knowing the background makes the final season more shrug-worthy.
DCI Banks follows the titular detective’s investigations through – initially – quite grisly crimes, but later seasons settle into a more regular someone-murdered-someone formula. Banks has no particular unique TV show characteristic (e.g. he’s not bipolar or psychic or anything), but he is impulsive – again, much more so at the show’s start – and often resorts to strong arm tactics to get some info, though Stephen Tompkinson’s representation of the character is so dopey-faced you sense if you just wait a few minutes he’ll get tuckered out on the angry thing and just go grab a sandwich. Along with Banks you have Annie – the snarky one – Helen, the uptight one, and Ken, the plug-and-play male detective who can be comedy relief or the one to mess up or whatever is needed as an extra counterpoint. A fifth role on the team rotates throughout the seasons.
The investigations are interesting enough, but by the fourth season start to devolve into quite predictable pickles – first dismissed is the secret mastermind, etc. And, except for the by the books Helen and the dutiful (because he ends up doing all the research), no one seems particularly gifted at their job, stumbling from point A to B to C until someone confesses. That might be true to life, but alas, it’s not the most compelling TV. Still, procedurals are procedurals. And we might be able to hang in there if not for…
In that final season, much is made of Alan and Annie’s relationship, or what’s apparently been percolating for seasons. Its definitely overwrought in those final episodes, but it seemed justified if it had been built up to, and thus a fitting way to wrap things up. But when you go back to season one, turns out that will they?/won’t they? was never a question. Banks and Annie are on-again off-again for five seasons, with the two bickering like children inbetween and Alan having the emotional fortitude of either a teenager or media’s shallow idea of a “man,” watching a woman, manfully stoic, from the corner of a room. It infiltrates the investigations and takes up way too much screentime, especially since the two actors have approximately zero chemistry and the show provides no reason whatsoever that they would be interested in each other beyond, like, show bibles and man/woman in same room = bone potential. BBC shows, with their short seasons, are especially guilty of crafting entire relationships and events between seasons, but this can be a good way to move things along if used effectively. In DCI Banks, this happens, but then its like the writers also want to cover those missed events during the season itself, further pushing the procedural stuff away. And perhaps needless to say, having already shown an inability to develop a sensible relationship on-screen, piking extra drama on top of that shaky ground doesn’t help things.
So I found myself annoyed more often than not. It’s worth noting that this while Alan / Annie thing might have been attempted as a way of staying true to the books on which the series was based. My interest in researching that isn’t high, though, having been exhausted just by watching the show.
As a police procedural, DCI Banks will do in a pinch. And the early seasons have an extra dash of nastiness to their cases that makes them watchable. But as the show bungles its character development along the way, it becomes a chore waiting for the drama to play out so we can get back to crime-solving.