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Case Number 04723

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The Thin Blue Line: The Complete Line-Up

BBC Video // 1996 // 420 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // July 6th, 2004

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All Rise...

Judge Joel Pearce is keen of eye, swift of thought, and regular of bowel.

The Charge

"And never forget, in the grand order of life, there are but two forces. Those of order and those of chaos. And between them, there lays us: the thin blue line."—Inspector Raymond C. Fowler

Opening Statement

A comedy series focusing on the misadventure of a police station in a suburb somewhere in Britain, The Thin Blue Line only ran for two short seasons. Both seasons are included here, in The Thin Blue Line: The Complete Line-Up, and this collection is sure to greatly please fans of British comedy.

Facts of the Case

Inspector Raymond C. Fowler (Rowan Atkinson, Mr. Bean, Johnny English) is the quirky and generally incompetent head of a small police station in a quiet suburb in England. Although there are few problems with criminals for this force to handle, he keeps more than busy in his struggles with the stupid but competitive Derek Grim (David Haig, Two Weeks Notice) and his girlfriend and assistant Patricia Dawkins (Serena Evans). He also has constant troubles with his three officers: the truly idiotic Kevin Goody (James Dreyfus, Notting Hill), the attractive and forward thinking Maggie Habib (Mina Anwar), and the older Frank Gladstone (Rudolph Walker).

The Evidence

Perhaps one of the signs of a great show is that you reach the end and wish they had continued on, at least for a few more seasons. In many ways, it feels as though The Thin Blue Line is only really reaching its stride by the end of the second season, and 14 episodes doesn't feel like enough time to spend in the presence of these characters. At the same time, that means the creators of the show (especially writer Ben Elton, who deserves the accolades that are piled on him in the extra features) got out while they were ahead, and didn't allow a flimsy third season to drag down one of the most entertaining television series ever made.

Before I try to support that lofty claim, let's have a look at the episodes:

Series One:

• "Rag Week"
The role of a first episode is always to introduce the plot and characters, but the cast takes a running start at the jokes in this first episode. Students at the local school always pull a series of pranks during rag week, and the more than a little anal-retentive Raymond makes plans with his officers to keep these rites in check. It also seems that Raymond and Patricia have some personal problems. He is not as affectionate as she would like.

• "The Queen's Birthday Present"
Raymond's old fashioned values clash with those of the other officers at the station when he purchases the Queen a birthday present—but not one for his and Patricia's tenth anniversary. Maggie and Kevin investigate a break and enter while David is busy hunting down some credit card fraud. This is the episode that really establishes this clash between traditional and contemporary values, which carries on through the rest of the season.

• "Night Shift"
This episode sets up the (attempted) relationship between Kevin and Maggie. She, of course, has no interest in him at all, which is the source of much humor in the show. It is also the first episode that focuses on plenty of actual police work. The officers do turn out to be somewhat capable, even if they can't get along through any of it.

• "Honey Trap"
Derek decides, against all reason, to use Maggie as a honey trap for a local drug dealer. Much sexual innuendo ensues, as well as a misunderstanding when Raymond cannot tell Patricia why he has ordered Maggie to talk to him in private, dressed in sexy clothes.

• "Fire and Terror"
Kevin and Maggie meet a fireman while on duty that Maggie takes an immediate liking to. They begin dating, but he seems oddly more interested in Kevin…This is the first episode where everything comes together really well in the show. The competition between Raymond and Derek is also handled really well. I think it's the best episode of the first season.

• "Kids Today"
The officers at Gasforth station are chosen to host a conference and present their views on juvenile crime. They decide to take a group of repeat juvenile offenders on a camping trip, with both funny and touching results. This is the first episode that demonstrates that there is a more serious side to the proceedings, and it is balanced well with the jokes.

• "Yuletide Spirit"
Raymond's yearly failed attempts at playing Captain Hook in a local theatre version of Peter Pan are foiled by Derek, who decides to audition for the first time. The CID side of the station gets a lead on a group of carolers who rob houses as some of them sing at the door. This works as a good close to the first season.

Series Two:

• "Court in the Act"
This first episode of the second season finds several changes to The Thin Blue Line. The generic opening song has been replaced by Rowan Atkinson introducing the episode with a moral lesson. These are hilarious, and do a great job of setting up the half hour ahead. The picture and sound quality is also noticeably better, evidence of a larger budget after a successful first run. In this episode, Derek's new assistant Gary Boyle (Mark Addy, The Full Monty) convinces him to plant evidence in order to capture a known drug dealer. The uniformed policemen try a new uniform. Raymond is also reintroduced to the mayoress, who he had a crush on in grade school.

• "Ism Ism Ism"
As great as the first season was, the second season outperforms it in almost every way. This episode handles some issues of racism in an entertaining and tasteful way as the officers conspire to arrest an illegal alien. Meanwhile, Derek attempts to join a secret society that involves some strange rituals.

• "Fly on the Wall"
Gasforth station is chosen to be the site for a BBC documentary about police officers. Everyone wants to be as impressive as possible for being on television, leading to amusing results.

• "Alternative Culture"
With the women's locker room closed for repairs, the men and women are forced to share a single locker room, which causes serious problems for everyone. Kevin and Maggie are both forced to make more serious decisions, which tie together at the end in classic sitcom style. Unfortunately, it's pretty much copied directly from a situation from the first season, but it's still funny.

• "Come on you Blue"
The Gasforth football team (that's soccer for you yanks) makes it further than it ever has before, and the mayoress wants to ensure that there are no riots by the fans. Patricia is catcalled repeatedly by a group of construction workers outside the station. Unfortunately, the shenanigans with the mayoress do get tired quickly.

• "Road Rage"
Patricia joins a group of environmental protestors that is blocking the construction of a new bypass through Gasforth. Trouble builds when the police force needs to stop the protest…whether she is among them or not.

• "The Green Eyed Monster"
The problems in Raymond and Patricia's relationship come to a head when he considers proposing to her. Both Raymond and Derek are trying to prepare for the promotion review board. This episode is a fitting end to the series.

These synopses don't do any justice to the complex web of humor that fills each episode. Ranging from broad physical comedy to that clever British wit, there are almost no dull or lousy moments. The characters are all great, and Ben Elton makes the wise choice of focusing on this small core group of characters rather than toss in dozens of bit parts and cameos. The script is delightful, weaving together storylines into perfect packages of laughter. It strikes a perfect balance between those sketch based shows and ones that follow only one or two storylines in a season. In this way, each episode can be watched on its own, but it fits well into the series as a whole as well.

Every bit as good as the writing of the show is Rowan Atkinson's perfect performance as Raymond Fowler. He slides back and forth from being the focal point and the straight man. He is able to toss insults and witty banter with the best of them, but he also does a wonderful job as the bumbling fop who has no idea what's going on around him.

While none of the other performers are as consistently great as Rowan Atkinson, most of the others deserve praise for their part of the show. Serena Evans, though her role as a sexually repressed girlfriend tends to get dull, puts a ton of energy into her scenes. She is strong and vulnerable at the same time, and has fantastic facial expressions. Mina Anwar is also excellent, demonstrating excellent comedic timing and the ability to move back and forth from being funny to serious without seeming insincere. David Haig does the best he can with the weak role he has been given, and chews up the scenery and comes off looking like an idiot with the best of them. His mixed metaphors are well written and well delivered.

Unfortunately, James Dreyfus and Rudolph Walker's roles do not quite live up to the others. Neither of them do a bad job, per se, but they don't have enough to work with. The broad physical gestures and complete stupidity of Kevin just don't fit in with the rest of the characters, and he mostly just comes off as annoying. Frank Gladstone is never placed at the centre of the action, and the easygoing style of Rudolph Walker rarely gets to shine through.

It's hard to know what else to say about The Thin Blue Line. It is certain to be loved by people who enjoy British humor, and will most likely be despised by those who hate British humor. It has a number of hilarious moments, and fewer segments that fall flat than any other show I have seen. It should be noted that no topic is considered too sensitive to be used as fodder for the series's jokes. The easily offended may want to go buy the Little House on the Prairie box set instead.

This collection treats the show with the respect it deserves. The video transfer is somewhat short of astounding, but considering that this is a low budget British television show Warner has done an excellent job. The color palette of the source print consists mainly of browns and grays, which lack definition and clarity. As I mentioned earlier, the show does look better during the second season. Still, I believe that it has been restored as well as possible considering the humble origins of the series.

The sound fairs somewhat better. The dialogue is never overwhelmed by the music (which is used sparingly) or laugh track (which is used so pervasively I wonder why they bothered using it at all). It is in no way a dazzling audio track, but it does what is necessary.

Although the transfer of the series is only serviceable, Warner has done an excellent job with the extra features. The main one of these is the 45-minute documentary Best of British: Ben Elton. The personality of Ben Elton shines through The Thin Blue Line so often, and knowing his performance history helps to understand where this show has come from.

The other major extra feature is a 12-minute interview of Ben Elton on a talk show with Carol Smillie. It's a good interview, and he spends quite a bit of time talking about The Thin Blue Line. He goes into detail about the writing process and the critical response to the series, which are some of the things that often get left out of these kinds of bonus features. While these are only two real additions, it adds up to a solid hour of viewing.

The only other extras are a few trailers and some cast bios.

Closing Statement

Fans of The Thin Blue Line have no excuse not to pick up this set. It's a solid transfer of the show, and it has some solid extras. Fans of British comedy that have not yet experienced the show should go buy it immediately. Trust me, it's worth it. Fans of comedy in general that aren't so big on the whole British thing may want to give it a shot too. It might just convert you.

The Verdict

The only problem with The Thin Blue Line is that it ended after only two short seasons. Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 83
Audio: 86
Extras: 82
Acting: 90
Story: 94
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: BBC Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 420 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Foreign
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• The Best of British: Ben Elton
• Smillie's People: Ben Elton


• IMDb

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