George Gently series six gains surprising depth

Gently
George Gently, Series 6
Created by Peter Flannery
Available Streaming on Acorn.TV

The police procedural is as old as television itself. Over the decades, pretty much every permutation of the genre has had its day in the sun, with the genre itself often changing as television progressed. From the original Golden Age classic Dragnet, to the increasingly serialized Hill Street Blues, to the grittier NYPD Blue and the modern era’s novelistic, realistic masterpiece The Wire, the genre shifts with each age, and reflects back on the society that produces it.

You may have noticed that all of the shows in the above paragraph were American productions, and in fact, most of the genre’s heights hail from this side of the pond. Yet the British have their own history of police shows (from Z-Cars, through Prime Suspect, and even last year’s Broadchurch) to draw from. George Gently, which just wrapped its sixth series, is a decidedly old-school police procedural that grows in charm, and in depth, over the course of the series’ four feature-length episodes.

The show follows DCI Gently (Tony nominee Martin Shaw), a seasoned Scotland Yard sleuth who now works out of Britain’s North Country, along with his Sergeant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby). Series six sees them back on the job after both sustained serious injuries, dealing with the ever-changing social and political landscape of the late 1960’s.

While the series opener “Gently Between The Lines” is too focused on the political and eschews the interplay between Gently and Bacchus a bit much, the second episode, “Blue for Bluebird” course-corrects to tell a more compelling mystery that has echoes for both characters. Shaw’s work as Gently is absorbing stuff; he turns the grizzled, world-weary old school cop into a living, breathing man when he could easily be a pile of clichés. His Gently is cynical without being a cynic, sarcastic without ever feeling too grumpy, righteous without ever becoming patronizing. The show also allows his strong affection for Bacchus to shine through in minor moments. Ingleby is given less to do, but he still manages to make Bacchus more than just a sidekick in the show’s better moments.

Though George Gently is incredibly formulaic (at their worst, these episodes can feel like Law and Order episodes at double-length), the better moments tend to accumulate a surprising amount of weight. The show also excels at developing fully realized communities for each of its mysteries, whether it is the rundown neighborhood in “Gently Between the Lines,” the Holiday Camp in “Blue for Bluebird,” or the coal-mining community in the finale “Gently Going Under.” Those latter two are better episodes because they manage to tie the social shifts in these communities to the personal shifts Gently and Bacchus are experiencing in their own lives. The personal side never takes over, or even becomes particularly central (this is, after all, a procedural), but it shades the episodes and allows them to attain a greater depth. By the time Gently is put in peril in the final episode, viewers will likely be surprised just how much they care whether DCI Gently lives to fight another day. The sun is setting on his era, and in his darkest moments he seems to realize this. But so long as he can keep on going, Gently will take what the world gives him, and offer back his best.

– Jordan Ferguson

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