The Responder is a beautifully human yet bleak story of an anxious and cynical police officer on the verge of losing his mind.
The night is quiet. As the sun goes down and people close their doors awaiting the next day, the streets lose their noise and the city shuts off the lights. However, it’s never completely silent. The night is when those who wish to get by undetected come out and own the streets while the police have to find a way to somewhat petrol the chaos within. For the police, the fight against crime is one that never stops. As we find ourselves questioning the structures we have in place to “protect” us, that fight is becoming a losing battle due to incompetence and the rampancy of corruption that tucks itself deep inside like a parasite. The Responder is one story of a troubled police officer who blurs the lines of justice and crime as he fights to keep the few shreds of his humanity intact.
The Responder tells the story of Chris Carson (Martin Freeman) who works the nightshift as a police officer in the city of Liverpool. The nights are long, and hard and are beginning to take a massive psychological toll on Carson who also has to maintain the family life that’s beginning to run away from him. One night, while working on a routine assignment, he crosses paths with a drug addict named Casey (Emily Fairn) who’s stolen a large bag of cocaine from a close friend of Carson. As Carson finds himself falling into the world of crime while having to serve as a beacon of justice, he has to fight against his mental state, the impending loss of his family both in blood and marriage as well as fighting those within his workplace who seek to bring him down. As Carson navigates to find a way out, he’s partnered up with a recruit by the name of Rachel (Adelayo Adedayo) who faces a world where her idealistic values of justice are challenged by the toxic grey area she is thrown into. As both officers face the city’s dark underbelly, they come together not necessarily as friends but as potential allies who are drawn together by their cynicism and need to feel power once more.
Although the storyline of The Responder is fictional, the series is entirely written by Tony Schumacher, a former Merseyside police officer who blends this storyline of drugs and crime with his own experiences of working as an officer in the nighttime scene of Liverpool. As well as telling a story of drug possession and the shady people that work outside and within the justice system, where The Responder arguably shines is in its almost vignette-like storytelling as we see the characters of Chris and Rachel work the nighttime shifts. Despite the extremely bleak storyline and characters that exist through the series, there’s a certain sense of humour that Schumacher sprinkles throughout that helps keep things earnestly human and away from feeling comically tragic. The character of Casey and the relationship she creates with Chris and a friend of hers named Marco (Josh Finan) ultimately exists at the heart of this entire series. Casey and Marco both exist as naive yet nevertheless confident characters who try to fight back against the classist system they find themselves in that is created by the institutions their city and country have created while the higher class get to roam free.
Told over five episodes that take place over five nights, the pacing of The Responder is extremely fast but perhaps what’s most impressive about the series is how it’s never quick to fall too far into constantly moving the plot forward and instead finding a balance between telling a story and creating complicated characters who develop with subplots of their own. The character of Chris Carson is portrayed beautifully by Martin Freeman because of how quick he can be to make the character both intimidating and incredibly upsetting in the same scene. For many, policing is a way to give yourself a power trip and intimidate those you see beneath which the character of Chris certainly dips his toes into. However, those around him are quick to see the facade that his coldness resembles.
In the overwhelming sea of crime dramas we see now, particularly from the BBC, The Responder feels like a massive breath of fresh air. The setting of Liverpool allows for the series to take advantage of the city’s beauty while providing a fresh new area and canvas for the series’ crew that provides some beautiful visuals. Although the series certainly wears some of its influences on its sleeve like the stylistic choices of modern Michael Mann films, it comes together as a piece of television that feels endlessly authentic and sincere in the themes and complicated ideas it chooses to explore. The policing system is shown not as a hero or a villain but rather as a devastatingly grey area where the rot inside emerges and simply expands with no one wanting to stop it likely because they don’t even know it’s happening. As a solid and intense crime drama, The Responder delivers but as a deeply human and compelling story of mental health, it shines as an all-time great and one that deserves all the accolades that come its way.
The Responder is now available to watch on digital and on demand.