Judge Joel Pearce is keen of eye, swift of thought, and regular of bowel.
"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
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).
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:
• "Rag Week"
• "The Queen's Birthday Present"
• "Night Shift"
• "Honey Trap"
• "Fire and Terror"
• "Kids Today"
• "Yuletide Spirit"
• "Court in the Act"
• "Ism Ism Ism"
• "Fly on the Wall"
• "Alternative Culture"
• "Come on you Blue"
• "Road Rage"
• "The Green Eyed Monster"
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.
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 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
Studio: BBC Video
• The Best of British: Ben Elton
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