American TV used to be good at the mini-series, the first of note being Roots, another being V. Heck, even Battlestar Galactica (the new one, not the old Star Wars ripoff version) was initially a mini-series that found an audience and became a several season series.
But, for a number of reasons, American TV moved away from the 5 or 6 episode series, to more open-ended shows that, if they proved to find an audience, could go on laying golden eggs for a long time. It’s a shame we do that, because when a show is designed to go on and on, there’s great motivation to not mess with key characters. Certain standout shows have been able to refresh by changing characters out, whether the method used is death or moving on. Law and Order (oops, sorry, I meant THIS ONE) comes to mind, as does House. More recently, Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy have killed main characters off, but in truth, both of those shows have arcs that are designed to play out in a relatively short time.
Television in the U.K. continues the tradition of the mini-series though, and do it really well with Line of Duty, available in the U.S. on Hulu+ Though Line of Duty has been picked up for a second season, the five episodes that make up the first season are a complete story with an extremely final and conclusive (if not perfectly satisfying) ending. Oh, it’s satisfying as storytelling goes, it’s just not the kind of “feel-good-balance-and-justice-is-restored” kind of ending American audiences love. If you doubt that, ask yourself why the awesome Rubicon on AMC wasn’t picked up for a second season.
Lennie James is a familiar face if you are a fan of Jericho, the aforementioned The Walking Dead or Hung. Of course, if you do know James from any of those shows, instead of from, say, Snatch, you assume from his accent (or lack thereof) he’s American. He’s not. He grew up in South London. In Line of Duty, he is fabulous as a somewhat (not very, but a little) crooked cop, who because of a couple bad decisions, ends up a very crooked cop. There are elements of The Shield present in Line of Duty, but it is a very original and interesting story. Well written and directed, it’s a thrilling 250 minutes of television.
I’m very happy Line of Duty is going to continue on to season two, and whether or not it stars Martin Compston and Vicki McClure, I’ll be watching.
Side note, also starring is the wonderful Neil Morrissey, known as the star of the British Men Behaving Badly, one of many shows American networks tried to translate from British TV but botched. The Brit MBH was awesome. He was also the British voice of Bob the Builder, and my personal choice as the actor most like to play Paul McCartney when Sir Paul’s definitive bio-pic is produced (at least that’s what I told Sir Paul when I had the honor of doing a one-on-one interview with him in 2001).