The Guardian, 2 April 2012

Detectives Blog

Scott and Bailey walks a fine line between being good and being silly. On the silly side, the dialogue is sometimes clunky (surely no-one says, ‘What the hell on earth just happened?’. Even in a moment of crisis, we know that hell and earth are separate places, whether you live in Manchester or not).

And the set-up doesn’t quite gel with the series either: Rachel Bailey (lovely Suranne Jones) is an up-and-coming superstar cop, and when we first meet her, she’s having her heart broken by sleazy barrister Nick Savage. After a long relationship, she suddenly discovers that he’s married with children. Since they come up against each other in court a few episodes later, it seems likely that they would have met each other professionally at some point. It does, therefore, seem unlikely that she might ever not have known his marital status, and that he had a whole other home, and life, in the suburbs.

Luckily, her partner-in-crime-solving, Janet Scott (equally lovely Lesley Sharp) is on hand to pick up the pieces, and mutter about professionalism. They deal with their various personal crises (Scott is perhaps a better copper than she is mother or wife), while picking their way around mutilated corpses and truculent suspects. It’s been described as Cagney and Lacey in Manchester (no bad thing in my view), though the crimes are rather gorier than that suggests.

Scott and Bailey run the constant risk of being upstaged by their boss, DCI Gill Murray, played by Amelia Bullmore, who steals pretty much every scene she’s in. She’s a woman who responds to a bad day in court with a demand for urgent booze, and while she might not be the perfect role model for her younger colleagues, she doesn’t pretend to be.

The second series has seen Gill’s acerbic colleague, DCI Julie Dodson (Pippa Haywood), make an appearance, and their friendship is almost entirely expressed in rude remarks over the phone, usually while one hovers over a rotting corpse. If it isn’t too much to ask for, please can we have a flashback episode where we find out their backstory? I find I can think of little else.

In the S&B universe, men are husbands, lovers, or more minor police officers, who ask expositional questions while doing the filing. It’s written by a woman too, so the whole thing feels like watching a detective show made in a parallel universe: one where women get to do all the cool stuff, and men say things like, ‘You will be careful, won’t you?’, before sliding instantly from the memory of every viewer.

While some critics have sniffed about the minor roles left for the men in S&B, I can remember no such whining about the lack of female roles in myriad detective dramas from The Sweeney to Se7en, so perhaps they should simply man up and accept that it doesn’t need to be International Women’s Day for a programme to focus on women doing their jobs and talking about something other than men.

Iconic: they’re only on season 2, so not yet. But they smash the Bechdel Test, so many points for that.

Duffers: The occasional plot holes could do with a little filling. And, btw, Suranne Jones is way too good for Sean Maguire.