Well I’m feeling rather pleased with myself. You may recall – but probably more likely won’t – Channel 4’s police drama The Ghost Squad, broadcast in a late evening slot towards the end of 2005, around the same time as Space Cadets, in which fame-hungry morons were ruthlessly and amusingly hoaxed on national telly.
But The Ghost Squad was altogether less jolly. It falls firmly into the category of police drama that concentrates on character rather than procedure, although unusually for a cop show it consisted of stand-alone hour-long episodes. Unlike much of the Channel 4 drama that has attracted me in recent years, such as Shameless, No Angels and Sugar Rush (and their forebear Teachers), The Ghost Squad does not attempt to incorporate humour: we are dealing with a brutal and bleak portrayal of modern-day policing here.
The scenario is this: Amy Harris is drafted into a secret and unofficial squad of police officers who work undercover to unearth corrupt and incompetent officers. Each of the eight episodes generally involves a “target” and often also an actual crime too: the plots are dense and sophisticated, and it is seldom clear where everyone stands. Indeed, even the “corrupt” officers are presented plausibly and have a clear reason for acting as they do – some end up undeniably hard-done-by.
Elaine Cassidy is superb as Amy Harris: tough and sharp, but also vulnerable and prone to rash and intuitive judgment calls. With Amy in the vast majority of scenes, Cassidy carries the series with style. She is well-supported by the two other main characters: Emma Fielding as her manipulative boss, who sends her into the field, and Jonas Armstrong as her shadow and support officer, in his first and only major role before becoming Robin Hood. Armstrong in particular puts in a stylish and endearing turn as Pete. One of the series’ great strengths is its exploration of the characters, and in particular of how months of deceitful undercover work and exposure to the Machiavellian internal politics of the police service leave Amy totally unsure of who to trust by the final two-part story.
It’s not always the easiest thing to watch, but The Ghost Squad is an unsung example of high calibre British TV drama. It is a shame that it was not commissioned for a second season, and downright criminal that it has not been given a DVD release in the UK. The reason I’m feeling so pleased with myself, however, is that I got wind of an Australian DVD release, and picked it up for the equivalent of about 15 quid, including shipping. There are no extras, but the transfers are clear and the menus easy to use, which is really all you need. Top notch.