When protests began back in May demanding American police brutality be recognized, they sparked soul-searching in an unexpected corner. On TV, networks began to re-examine the decades-long proliferation of police procedurals glorifying law enforcement. The worst offenders, “Cops” and “Live P.D.,” were pulled wholesale, while others like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” pledged to address timely issues in the forthcoming season.
American audiences are about to get a lot more British imports served up on this side of the pond.
Despite the cultural climate, police procedurals are extremely popular. Can the genre be reworked? Showtime’s newest series, “We Hunt Together,” suggests it can. And the series’ British roots are part of the reason why. This is a good thing — which is fortunate, because American audiences are about to get a lot more British imports served up on this side of the pond.
“We Hunt Together” is the second-ever original from Alibi, a U.K. cable channel, which has so far mostly served as a repository for other channels’ police procedurals. Even so, “We Hunt Together” is a surprisingly well-done series. It takes the genre and uses it not as a way to glorify law enforcement, but to postulate that human behavior in society is driven by circumstance, not conscious choices. Those who commit crimes often do so because their entire lives have led to that point; there is no other option.
With a heavier-handed director, or less-talented actors, this thesis could collapse into a stereotypical nature vs. nurture or lack-of-free-will fantasy. It helps that the Bonnie-and-Clyde-style murderers (Dipo Ola and Hermione Corfield) work hard to make their characters as compelling and well-rounded as possible. The pair of mismatched cops (Babou Ceesay and Eve Myles) are even better, keeping their characters ticking even when saddled with pendulous dialogue.
Ceesay’s character, DI Jackson Mendy, brings added complexity as an anti-corruption cop: Is the abuse of power within our modern law-enforcement systems as predictable and insidious as the acts of violence these systems supposedly protect us from?
This is the sort of show one would expect to find on PBS’ Masterpiece Mystery, tucked between regular seasons of “Grantchester” and “Endeavour,” two other U.K. police procedurals that attempt to use the genre to discuss heavier themes. So what’s it doing on Showtime, a network known for very American fare like "Homeland" and "Billions"?
The answer has a lot to do with time. Most people do not realize the short production schedules many TV shows follow. For example, the season finale for “This Is Us,” which aired March 24, completed filming just before Hollywood shut down in mid-March. Several decades ago, when TV episodes were treated as more disposable, this made sense. But while time-consuming premium TV is on the rise, much of broadcast still only tapes weeks ahead of airing.
When the coronavirus shutdown began, people thought the world would start back up by mid-summer. There was hope that American TV could continue with only a few shows having to shorten their seasons. But as the months drag on, channel after channel has begun digging around to find something, anything that’s new to U.S. audiences.
As a result, Showtime is one of several networks airing a series that already ran overseas. It’s luckier than most in that Alibi is not a major channel, so Americans have probably never heard of it. Other networks are banking on shows anglophiles might recognize.
The CW, for instance, attempted to bring over “Taskmaster,” a British comedy-panel show that has been nominated once for an International Emmy and three times for a BAFTA TV Award, winning it once. Another British import, “Killer Camp,” debuted on The CW in mid-July, “Coroner” started airing Aug. 5 and “Being Reuben” — a reality series featuring 14-year-old Welsh singer Reuben de Maid — arrived just this Friday.
July and August’s major influx of British TV is only a fraction of what viewers will most likely experience if Hollywood filming does not magically find a way to start at the end of this month.
This weekend will also see British debuts on streaming. NBCUniversal's Peacock is debuting “Hitmen,” starring Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc from “The Great British Baking Show.” (NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC News.) Speaking of which, HBO Max has just snapped up the rights to “The Great British Baking Show” spinoff “The Great Pottery Throw Down,” which is expected to appear on the service in the coming months.
July and August’s major influx of British TV is only a fraction of what viewers will most likely experience if Hollywood filming does not magically find a way to start at the end of this month. Netflix has long relied on British imports to help pad its absurd number of monthly premieres. Now the rest of its competitors have noticed and are racing to keep up.
So far, Americans haven’t been biting. “Killer Camp” didn’t make much of a splash when it premiered, although it wasn’t an outright flop. “Taskmaster,” on the other hand, has already been yanked. (Americans haven’t watched panel shows in decades, and it seems unclear why networks would think now is the time to try to bring them back.)
Chances are one or more of these imports will eventually become a smash, opening the floodgates to a veritable British Invasion for TV.