TV Review: Blue Lights (BBC NI)
16 May 2023
Blue Lights is a six-part drama series, set in Belfast, about the police force of the north of Ireland. The main characters are four probationary police officers and the action follows the problems and challenges they have to overcome to successfully complete their training.
Each of these four characters go out on patrols with an experienced police officer and this forms the central taking off point for the storylines that unfold.
The first episode portrays the lack of knowledge and incompetence of the new recruits in a way that is both amusing but also exciting in how their actions have dangerous consequences such as one of the female officers being punched in the face by a youth confident that the officer’s approach to him can be claimed by him to be an abuse of his rights.
In this way the drama makes the audience relate to the young trainee officers, as we are interested in what they could possibly do to make the situation any worse than it already is.
Policing in Belfast is portrayed as you might expect as very difficult and one can see early on in Blue Lights that this central feature is going to form the main novelty of the series. This novelty is obviously what led to the drama being made by the BBC as they no doubt thought a network audience would be intrigued in the difference to more standard cop shows.
For me, I could only regard this drama as a tale about policing in Belfast. I had to suspend disbelief and the show makes it easy to do this as I thought the characters and situations were very involving. However, although it is sensitively done in line with the implicitly understood politically correct parameters which a programme like this has to stay within it remains at the level of rather fluffy entertainment.
As far as I can remember there is absolutely no reference to sectarianism and there are no sectarian incidents or even a reference to possible sectarianism in the PSNI. The slick cop show action of the programme distracts from such glaring omissions. Present day problems of organized crime and policing nationalist working class areas are not filled in with any historical background. There is no reference to Loyalism. It will be interesting to see if any references to politics and history will form part of any future storylines.
There is only one thing I can think of which is progressive about this show and that is its mere existence as a show set and made in the modern north of Ireland. Like Derry Girls it shows that television dramas set here are commercially viable and give the people living here the chance to see a portrayal of the place we live in even if we feel it veers from the lives we actually live. You may have strong opinions about the portrayal but if you watched it to the end like I did you have watched something that at least you can have a critique about rather than what there was before: absolutely nothing.