Paul Abbott has been speaking ahead of his return to Channel 4 next month with new Manchester-based police comedy No Offence.
“No Offence came after searching for a concept that would match a Shameless landscape, which is f***ing enormous. I love cop shows, I love comedies, and nobody has found a blended set of ingredients that make that work and feel like the cop series I wanted to make,” he said.
“I watch all cop shows and loved Barney Miller which was an ancient 24-minute sitcom all set in one cop bull pen – a beautiful American series. The Shield is the best police series ever written – but we’re not going for anything like that. No Offence is trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and we’ve done it beautifully, with a set of ingredients that don’t look like they should belong together, but they do. They just do.”
The cast is led by Joanna Scanlan (The Thick of It, Getting On), who plays the “dizzyingly capable, but unhinged” DI Vivienne Deering. She’s joined by Alexandra Roach (The Iron Lady, Utopia) and Elaine Cassidy (The Paradise, Harper’s Island)
“We’ve got a Beryl Cook-ness from the way Deering is written, and a Raymond Briggs-ness from the way all the characters are written, but you get an absolute Cracker-esque team that you would pray would be on your side if someone came after you: these coppers would be your best allies,” he explained.
“Writing a cop show that also featured dark comedy came as an imperative to me. The name No Offence came in to my head and made me piss myself laughing. The way that rules have to be applied in a twisted world, that is how I want my cops to be.”
Abbott added that it was very much like a family and that writing a family out of a bunch of strangers was his forte. He points to similarities to Shameless, Linda Green, Clocking Off and State of Play within the show’s DNA.
“As a writer, you stand in the person’s shoes you’re writing about. The biggest event you do as a writer is to “give your enemies the best lines”. I never used to know what that meant, but, and I can’t remember who said it first, it means the person you least understand. I think I’ve just got a knack for exporting myself into other people’s shoes; a dog, a child, a woman, a man.”
The 8 x 60 minute series, he said, is not about pure morality, but “distorted morality” and that the “greatest good for the greatest number” was a key theme – “vigilantism by any other name”
“It was clearly a conscious decision to place three women at the heart of this series; these are women that men would want take out for a beer. The boss, Maclaren, appears in a supervisory role. He’s a deliberate cypher as an antagonist, because you need to kick against somebody. You have to have somebody who knows this team well, yet doesn’t know them at all. That makes for a really comic formula because Maclaren never knows what Deering is going to do next.
“As for Deering, I always imagined her dad brought her up with the police force. Her dad died in the line of duty and that is the spirit of her governance. She governs like a bloke with the politics of a female.
“I love watching people being good at their job. I remember I used to watch Casualty when all they did was bitch about the agency nurses and I’d shout “go get another job.” I don’t want to watch people moaning about their occupation on TV – it’s like being haunted by your eight-hour shift isn’t it?! We deliberately didn’t want that.”
The dialogue within the series is described as “interrogation, interpersonal interrogation.” This was deliberate because Abbott said there wasn’t space to delve deeply into anyone’s character.
“I want to, but we haven’t had time this series because it goes like a bullet! I hope it’s a fantastic overture of what No Offence will be in a few years.”
So, is it comedy, or is drama?
“You can’t call it a comedy, as it’s as dark as can be…and it gets darker and darker. But we’re not plunging the audience into it – I think it’s a really powerful piece of seduction from episode 1 to episode 8, with one of the toughest through storylines about the murders of young women with Down’s syndrome. I often wonder why the f**k I landed upon these storylines for No Offence, because it was one of the hardest things to write. And there you go: there’s your answer.
“I don’t write for shock value. In No Offence we were looking for invention. I think all crimes have been seen on television before, whether on the News At Ten or in a drama. But No Offence isn’t about whether you’ve seen them before, it’s about the attitude towards them. We’ve done it with such dignity and humanity. The authenticity in No Offence is unbreakable. It might take a while for people to realise what that is, but after 60 minutes I defy for anybody to put it down….It’s a five course meal by anybody’s description.”
No Offence starts on Channel 4 in May.