Monday, January 12, 2015

Pilot Review: Babylon


Babylon (Sundance)
Premiered January 8 at 10pm

To call this a pilot review isn’t really accurate since this isn’t actually this show’s pilot. My trusted episode titles source, epguides.com, along with further research, indicates that this Channel 4 UK show aired a 90-minute pilot in February and then its six-episode first season this past November. SundanceTV opted just to air the six episodes, skipping the pilot and launching right into the first season, reminiscent of when Cinemax picked up the second season of “Strike Back” without ever airing the first. Both of SundanceTV’s original series, “Rectify” and “The Red Road,” were intriguing and grew on me, and so I opted to check this out, and I’m very glad I did. There’s no easy way to categorize this show, which is actually more of a comedy than a drama, following police cases but with a deeply satirical slant. A neighbor requesting police help assembling a chair while they were barging into a criminal’s apartment is entertaining and ridiculous to be sure, but what really had me cracking up was when a prison riot led to specific pizza orders and some rather disturbing imagery about where pizzas might end up in relation to the guards if the demands were not met. It’s interesting to see American Brit Marling at the head of this show, though she certainly has the right personality to play an unconventional communications director with no interest in being talked down to by others. I liked her in “The East” and I think this is a perfect follow-up role. James Nesbitt is terrific as the no-nonsense police commissioner who feels like he’s right out of “In the Loop.” It’s also fun to see Nick Blood, who also stars on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” as Lance Hunter, as one of the cops. This show definitely feels like it’s worth six episodes, and though I had no such plans to keep watching when I first sat down, I’ll definitely be continuing now.

How will it work as a series? I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. The creative minds of Danny Boyle, Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, who have been responsible for “The Thick of It” and “Four Lions,” among other things, should be able to produce some truly unique and enjoyable hours based on this first one. I already feel compelled to track down a British copy of the pilot to see how this show got its official start.
How long will it last? That I’m not sure about. I can’t find any record of whether Channel 4 has renewed the show in the UK, but I think that the timing of this show ridiculing the police is far from ideal in the United States, which could lead Sundance to part with it after one season. Let’s hope that’s not the case, and I still have some faith that the network will want to stick with it.

Pilot grade: B+