The Responder season two is brilliant, but it’s relentless misery - TV Review

The Responder, BBC 1 and iPlayer

(Rekha Garton/Dancing Ledge/BBC)
Martin Freeman gives a fantastic performance as Chris Carson in The Responder (Rekha Garton/BBC/Dancing Ledge/Rekha Garton)

Season two of The Responder has driven deep into the dark underbelly of north of England misery.

It’s two years since we met Chris Carson (Martin Freeman), a cop being slowly driven crazy by the demands of a jobs he loves and hates.

I think almost everyone agrees there are too many cop shows on TV, but The Responder made up for it with a captivating display by Freeman and a cracking script. It was among the best things on television in the last couple of years.

Carson is a response cop on the edge as he works the night shift in Liverpool among the drug dealers, addicts, down and outs and the mentally ill. He’s universally regarded as being good at his job but also generally disliked by his colleagues.

Most of the time he works on his own but occasionally he gets the job of chaperoning a rookie. The assumption is that no officer with a choice will share a car with him.

His heart is in the right place but he’s got serious anger issues and a terrible record with decision making.

Written by a former police officer, Tony Schumacher, season one was almost perfect drama.

Carson was deeply flawed but you were rooting for him as he tried to help Casey, a helpless case and small-time drug seller, who’d managed to get herself into serious bother with a high ranking and violent dealer.

We watch Carson follow a poor decision with a worse one and get dragged into criminal behaviour himself and ultimately have a hand in murder.

There’s not a lot to like about Carson’s life. He’s separated from his wife and is only starting to get to know his daughter properly when his ex announces that she’s got a new job in London and is moving away.

Even while his daughter is still around he’s struggling to pay for her Communion dress and ends up stealing money from his abusive father, a certain source of many of his anger issues.

Carson’s dad is played by Bernard Hill in his last performance before his recent death.

In an effort to convince his ex-wife to stay in Liverpool, he tells her he’s finally got a day job with the police, when he’s only at the application stage.

After his boss tells him to his face that he has no chance because everyone thinks he’s a “knobhead” Carson gets desperate.

This leads him into the clutches of his corrupt former partner, Deb Barnes, who offers him a guaranteed day job if he does a couple of dodgy things for her.

Martin Freeman describes ‘privilege’ of sharing Bernard Hill’s last performance (Rekha Garton/Dancing Ledge)
Bernard Hill in his last performance as Chris's dad in the Responder (Rekha Garton/BBC / Dancing Ledge)

The viewer can see the madness of taking the offer. Carter can see craziness of getting involved in Barnes’s criminal scheme, so he refuses point blank and then decides later on to do it anyway.

A rookie cop in season one, Rachel returns with a few years under her belt but not much better luck.

She’s still traumatised from the domestic abuse we saw her suffer and ends up in Carson’s patrol car after her former partner decided to fake whiplash when Rachel crashed their patrol car.

She’s also desperate to get off response and wants to do something big to make an impact and get noticed.

Carson says he’s got some intelligence (Barnes’s job) and this is the way to get herself noticed. Needless to say, it doesn’t go to plan.

Schumacher offers us an insight into the world of the modern street police officer whose more an emergency social worker than a crime fighter.

It’s impressive work with Freeman giving a scintillating performance, but beware, this is relentless miserable, high-tension drama.