Doug Coutts’ TV Preview: Cuffs

CUFFS | TV1, 9.35 Sunday

A Personal View By Doug Coutts

A Personal View
By Doug Coutts

Cuffs off.

Cuffs is a police drama all about English front-line cops, just like The Bill, Heartbeat and Z Cars were. Unlike them, Cuffs is set in the seaside resort of Brighton.

As the cameras started rolling last year, the BBC media department described it thus: “Cuffs is a fresh, authentic and visceral drama that will take the audience on an exhilarating ride through the challenges of front-line policing. Adrenalised and vibrant, the show is packed full of dramatic incidents and colourful characters.”

The evidence so far doesn’t quite stack up. Police procedurals are never fresh, by definition, and it’s hard to claim authenticity when your characters come as a job lot from Cliché Casting Ltd. As for visceral – there’s a world of difference between gut-wrenching and stomach-turning and Cuffs lies sprawling somewhere in the middle.

The first episode kicks off with a frontline cop trying to deal with a stoush between some nudists on a beach and a bunch of lager louts on holiday from the pages of the Beano, while his boss the chief inspector welcomes some fresh recruits to the force. One of them’s his son, because it’s important to set up some tension early.

The son gets partnered with the cop we met pre-credits, who promises to not cut him any slack, and the challenges of frontline policing begin. Today it’s drug abuse, racism and child abduction, with a sprinkling of chief inspector boffing one of his staff while his wife’s not in the best of health on the side. Oh, and the chief inspector is dead keen for his son to do well, or not look like a complete dropkick because that will reflect badly. The pressure’s on.

It’s a bit … well, ploddy. The promised exhilaration stays away, with fast-cut sequences filling in the gaps but not advancing the story, and the adrenalin is busy elsewhere as well. Hype aside, it’s a bog standard cop show, and they’re always good fun. But a River it ain’t.

What other critics said:

“The crimes were consciously gritty, pushing the limits of pre-9pm viewing. In this we had a self-harming drug addict; a racially-motivated screwdriver attack; child abduction; and suicide. Is this just The Bill for the Instagram generation? Maybe, but that show ran for 27 years, and this is trying to up the ante for depicting modern policing. Time will tell if it makes the grade.” — The Independent

“A solid, well cast, soundly conceived procedural soap whose relatively novel setting of Brighton lent a welcome vibrancy without quite disguising the familiarity of the fare. Cuffs made the rookie mistake of cramming too many cases into the hour. Still, what lacked in finesse it made up for in pace, only pausing for breath for a montage that cast light on personal lives and closely guarded secrets.” — The Times

“It’s certainly nothing like the current trend for bleak Scandi-style cop shows, in which what’s happening inside a moody detective’s head is as important as the case. This is wham-bam, oi, you’re nicked, bright and breezy, just like its location. Cuffs is a throwback, to The Bill. It’s The Bill-on-Sea, Selsey Bill, if it was a little to the west. It’s The Bill brought not just to the south coast but also to the 21st century, with welcome diversity and parkour.” — The Guardian

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years. He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at:

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