We are in a golden age of television. We are also in an age of excess. As such, we often have to pick and choose what we watch, because we simply don’t have enough time to watch everything that is good. Unfortunately, that means that a lot of great shows slip through the cracks. As a fan of TV, who watches much more TV than the regular person, I am always sad to see some of the best TV shows slip so far beneath the radar that they become obscure and unknown. In an effort to improve the standing of some of these “lost” shows, I have decided to create Spotlight, a new Feature series at TVEnthusiast. Spotlight will be a regular article series that, with each iteration, pleads the case of a different series that has somehow slipped under the radar.
Babylon is a British political police dramedy that is most notable for the involvement of Feature Film Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slumdog Millionaire), and Comedy Writers Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, The Thick of It) and Sam Bain (Peep Show, Fresh Meat). The series follows a PR team for Scotland Yard and the political crisis caused by the recent actions of police in London. Though the series is mostly comedic in tone, it tackles serious subject matter and is wrapped in some pretty dramatic, and tragic, events.
What is Babylon?
If I was to compare Babylon to any current series, I would compare it to HBO’s new comedy The Brink. Like The Brink, Babylon gets deep into the gritty details involved in the very political machinations behind police business. Babylon and The Brink are also similar in that they are both ensemble pieces, which show multiple key areas of a larger crisis. Babylon, deals primarily with 2 parts of a looming crisis. For part of the story, we follow a corporate PR woman who comes to work for Scotland Yard after the Commissioner makes a move towards transparency in press/police relations. For the other part, we follow some of the boots on the ground who struggle through post traumatic stress, peer pressure, and the press vilification of their actions, all while trying to do right by themselves, their families and the public. The lesson at hand is that nobody is perfect at their job, and the boots and higher ups of a major police department are no exception. No matter good or bad, they all make mistakes, they try and mitigate the damage, they suffer consequences, and their lives are deeply affected. The outlook is bleak, but the series is paced as a comedy.
What makes Babylon good?
A big part of what makes Babylon such a good, and highly bingeable, series is the snappy comedic pacing, which keeps you invested in the minutia as the show plows through larger concepts than you would expect from a comedy. This is, thankfully, enhanced by several strong performances. Irish actor James Nesbitt (The Missing) is mesmerising and larger than life as Commissioner Richard Miller. Miller wants to make his department transparent, as the bureaucracy of his job and the blood lust of the press slowly tear him apart. Bertie Carvel puts off just the right amount of slime coated confidence in his portrayal of Communications Deputy Finn, who is not happy with being passed up for the position of Director of Communications. This Director of Communications job is in the hands of Liz Garvey, as portrayed with a balance between wisdom and naivete by Brit Marling (Community), who has passed on better financial opportunities to do something she feels will make a difference. Cavan Clerkin (The Inbetweeners), Adam Deacon (Dead Set) and Nick Blood (Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD) portray a trio of close knit Police Officers caught up in, and causing further developments throughout the grander machinations. The 3 actors have great, and highly believable, chemistry which makes them sympathetic, despite their monumental flaws, and the disasters they impart. The sharply witted writing of Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong, and Jon Brown (Misfits) quickly pulls us through disastrous events while providing clever dark humor. The direction and editing provide a pacing for the series that ties everything together tightly.
How did Babylon perform?
Babylon was critically well received, but it didn’t exactly tear up the charts. Rotten Tomatoes displays a 75% approval rating for the series. Negative criticism has come from publications such as The Huffington Post and The Atlantic. Positive reaction, however, dominated this criticism in the press, with good marks from The Los Angeles Times (who praised the representation of bureaucracy) The Hollywood Reporter, and The Wall Street Journal. While the critical attention was mostly positive, the audience adoption was nearly non existent. For example, the 4th episode of the series brought in a remarkably dismal 17,000 viewers. As such, Babylon went almost completely unnoticed by American audiences. Perhaps the series had the stink of a police procedural, that was sure to offend the delicate tastes of cable viewers. If that is the case, those potential viewers missed out on something wildly original and entertaining.
Should I watch Babylon?
As always, whether or not you would enjoy Babylon is dependent on your individual tastes. If you enjoy comedies that breakdown the political machinations behind realistically dramatic events, then Babylon is for you. If you enjoy shows like Louie, which can turn comedy into drama and still remain just as compelling, then give the series a try. Babylon shows 2 perspectives on a crisis, and almost feels like 2 different shows. Oddly enough, the tonal split occurs throughout both perspectives, mixing little bits of tragedy and darkness throughout both halves the humorous series. If you enjoy shows that defy their genre structure, by dipping toes in other waters, Babylon is worth your attention.
Babylon’s single season aired on Sundance in the United States. The series is not yet streaming on any of the major subscription services, though episodes can be bought on Amazon, Google Play, and iTunes. Unfortunately, due to poor ratings, a second season of Babylon is very unlikely.
Have you watched Babylon? Are you interested? Let us know in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows.