The Vice

The Vice

The new 7-part BBC America series The Vice starts off looking like a Prime Suspect knock-off. With pounds of lurid exposition and character baggage, it quickly becomes a tug of war between "gripping" storylines and arrested character development. This is familiar turf: hard-boiled London’s Metropolitan Police vice unit try to settle old scores in the stationhouse while trying to rid the city of serious sex crimes.

The first episode, "Daughters,"’ includes but is not limited to depictions of forced prostitution, murder, mutilation, pornography and sex-slavery, while introducing a band of cynical sleuths trying to get promotions without getting sullied by the dirty work. One crime clumsily unfolds onto another and the plot soon turns into a winding flaccid connect- the-dots crime spree.Writer Barry Simner goes for thematic bloat rather than building an organic story.

Struan Rodger plays David Hinkley, a white-collar ponce (Brit for pimp) who sets his girls up in high-class apartments for high-class johns. He brutalizes one of his top hookers, Nikki (Sally Hurst) while she is recovering from an abortion. Despicably, he gets her ready to go back to work by raping her and telling her “you see, you can do it when you want to… I’ve got girls queuing up for flats like this.” She is under surveillance, but not the protection, of Inspector Pat Chappel (Ken Stott), who can’t convince her to sign a complaint against Hinkley. Chappel has a soft heart on for call girls.

When Hinkley learns Nikki has talked to the cops he, he kicks her out of the posh digs and deposits her in a seedy flat.Things get so ugly that he shoves her out the window, but somehow she survives. Meanwhile, the vice squad is called in on the brutal murder of another prostitute who Chappel believes is connected to Hinkley.

Nikki takes up with Guy Walsh {Philip Wright}, her old ponce, for protection and is further abused. Guy kidnaps Hinkley’s teen daughter and stashes her in Nikki’s flat, which is above his porn store. Chappel, who is on to all of this, but unable to make arrests, gravely tells his deputies “this is a turf war.”

The writing doesn’t make any attempt to avoid cliches, underlined in some scenes because the creaky plot devices contain zero suspense.Brittle scenes veer toward unintended parody and over the top performances (especially Wright’s) in pursuit of gritty realism, which, under the direction of Douglas Mackinnon, is too stagy.

There’s cloying dialogue from a corrupt superintendent to rookie Dougie that he’s ina “very small world, the vice unit, secretive. People go in and they never come out.” Or this clunky set-up for future shows: “Senior officer asked for a favor.You’re going to be bumping into that officer later in your career.” At one point the villain is lurking behind an open door with the police on the other side of it. Where’s Benny Hill when you need him.

On the plus side there are some interesting performances that might redeem The Vice in later episodes.Stott, a veteran of top dramas (The Singing Detective, Shallow Grave), rides the plot convolutions out in a solid, if initially guarded, performance. Hurst also gives a quiet, dimensional integrity to Nikki, the battered tart with only a gilded heart of gold.Rodger is essentially miscast as a brutal villain; his deportment doesn’t lend anything to the role, although he exhibits real conflict in the scenes when he is exposed as a pimp to his family. David Harewood (who played Othello at the National Theatre) is terrific as Sergeant Joe Robinson and Marc Warren hits all the right notes as Dougie, the young rookie who is intrigued by the seedy glamour of the call girls.

Lewis Whittington

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Philadelphia, PA
Lewis Whittington writes about the performing and film arts for many publications. He is a renegade dance, theater and opera queen, a jazz-head and a civil activist.