'Bulletproof': TV Review

Bulletproof Episodic - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Sky UK Limited
Not especially fresh, but some solid action beats.

The CW's occasionally odd summer original programming strategy continues with a British police drama that feels like a London-set take on American buddy-cop stories.

It isn't uncommon to tune into an American TV show and see British actors impersonating Americans. Heck, The CW's drama about a high school football star is titled All American and yet is toplined by British thespian Daniel Ezra.

It's less frequent to see a British TV show clearly impersonating an American TV show, but it's impossible to watch The CW's new drama Bulletproof without referencing banter-and-bicker classics like Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys. British TV does spectacular work in the police procedural space, but what Bulletproof is attempting is something American in origin.

Even accepting The CW's desire to fill summertime space with original programming, Bulletproof makes no sense at all on The CW — I could imagine it being on-brand for Fox, maybe? — but it's better than most of what the network has counted as summer acquisitions.

Developed for Sky One in the U.K., Bulletproof was created by Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters along with Nick Love. Love wrote and directed much of the series — including the three episodes sent to critics — and Clarke and Walters star, so a lot of it has a "Let's give ourselves fun things to do!" feeling, which isn't necessarily the same as crafting a consistently compelling story or collection of characters.

Bishop (Clarke) and Pike (Walters) are detectives in London's National Crime Agency. They're also childhood friends, even though they couldn't be more different. Pike is the son of an NCA bigwig (Clarke Peters), raised in a stable middle-class background and following suit with a wife (Lashana Lynch's Arjana) and kids. The mercurial Bishop was a foster kid and his relationship with girlfriend Sophia (Emma Rigby) is falling apart. Pike and Bish don't always play the rules, but they usually get their man even if they have to wreck their police-issued cars to do it. The show is low on ongoing intrigue and the milquetoast episodic plotlines range from more bland intimate cases meant to expose character details to a generic car chase ring meant to facilitate car chases.

Fortunately, car chases are what Love does best. Peaking with a visceral sequence in the premiere, the automotive action on Bulletproof is jarring, jolting and kept to a reasonable scale, since even though Love may have Michael Bay/Richard Donner aspirations, he's still got a British TV budget and that limits the number of flipping automobiles and screen-filling fireballs the show is able to execute. Despite the title, the gun-driven shootouts are significantly less impressive, which is either a function of budget stunt work or maybe just wild differences in gun culture.

The chemistry and back-and-forth energy between Clarke and Walters is great. The actual dialogue in their banter is not, so either you get caught up in how hard they're working to make you believe the characters are chummy or you get bogged down in wishing that the chumminess was more clever. I was definitely in the latter category but if you want to tell me, "But isn't it more realistic to have friends who just say dumb stuff to each other without sounding like their conversations were crafted by a screenwriter?," all I can do is shrug.

The show also struggles to find anything fresh to do with Pike and Bishop's oft-exasperated boss (Lindsey Coulson's Tanner), other than "She has a dog." Lynch, who has been in attracting recent buzz surrounding poorly reported James Bond rumors, does a bit better, and she and Walters have a warm domestic relationship that is doubtlessly meant to remind you of the Murtaugh marriage in Lethal Weapon.

Fans of Treme and The Wire are bound to be amused by Peters going all plummy and British, but the New York-born veteran of the London stage is having an English accent moment — he's also mighty erudite and aristocratic on HBO's upcoming His Dark Materials — and he does it well. His character is yet another part of Bulletproof that would be interchangeable and disposable if Peters weren't an actor capable of elevating the simplest of dinner table scenes.

I think there's a great show that could use British settings and British characters, but this sort of American conceit as a commentary on cultural difference and why our respective approaches to the police and this genre are so different. There's no indication Bulletproof wants to be that. It wants to be fun and to get in and out in a hurry. It also wants to be distinctive in its home territory (even though it's not like British television doesn't get all of the American offerings this is emulating). It probably does some of those things. Here, it's pretty average. The three screeners weren't hard to watch. I don't really need any more.

Cast: Noel Clarke, Ashley Walters, Christina Chong, Lashana Lynch, Mandeep Dhillon, David Elliot, Jason Maza, Caroline Goodall, Clarke Peters, Lindsey Coulson
Creators: Noel Clarke, Ashley Walters, Nick Love
Premieres: Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET/PT (The CW)