The Responder review – Liverpool’s Mean Streets masterpiece

Posted on 10 April 2022
By Andy Johnson
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“I wanna be a good Bobby. I wanna do good things… I wanna be normal.”

The claustrophobia wrapped around PC Chris Carson’s life is hard to witness. He is a self confessed ’empty shell’ of a man. Troubled at home, tormented at work and unable to find refuge even in his private thoughts.

After speaking with a few friends, who confessed to not being able to make it past the opening episode, I felt compelled to write this review.

De wha’ mate!? This is hands down one of the best stories to appear on that magic box in the corner of your living room, for quite some time. Once the chaotic world of the catastrophic characters opens up in a twisting thorn bush of intertwining narrative, you can’t help but be hooked and crave more.

Home grown viewers will love spotting locations. Even our humble home at Tocky TV features in the background of Chris’ first run in with bag head Marco. Although the roundabout by Brunswick station has not magically developed portal powers to other parts of the city. I have tried it a few times since.

Critics say it doesn’t shine a great light on Liverpool. But The Responder is an astute slice of life and the troubles we face, both individually and collectively. The people under the spotlight, the drug dealers and abusers, exist all over the world.

Humanity is ever present in Carl, Casey and Marco. They have been failed by life and have grabbed what appeared to be a lifeline, but in actuality is a poisoned chalice.

The Responder deserves to be spoken about in the same breath as Scorsese heavy hitters Mean Streets and The Departed. Do they show New York and Boston in a bad light? Or do they reflect universal truths about nature versus nurture?

The cinematography is a marvel to behold. Blue hues and luminescent yellows spill from every pore of the screen, trapping PC Carson further in the colours of the force. He cannot escape the constraints of his job.

Throughout the first episode, we only see him in Bobby clobber and later he only wears blue and black hoodies off duty.

Martin Freeman is on tour de force form. His finely honed brogue is easily the best on screen Scouse accent by a non Scouser.

The nasal intonation, the broken mellifluous quality, it’s all there. He spoke to himself in Scouse for over a year and spent weeks patrolling the city in a face mask to tune his ear to the dialect. And it pays off in shovels.

The Devil is said to be in the details. Even Carson’s walk evokes an accent, which you only see on the mean streets of Merseyside.

Ian Hart somehow manages to steal the show. But he has been my favourite Liverpudlian actor since Backbeat tore a Beatles’ legend-sized hole in my young cinematic consciousness in ’94.

“You can’t do your solo spot no more Stu…” Classic.

Hart’s performance is mesmerising in its measured cadence and supreme subtlety. Not to mention carrying off the classic curly perm with a panache, to make even Kevin Keegan feel nostalgic.

There has been some division between viewers online over Martin Freeman’s accent. Are they tone deaf? Ian Hart more than legitimises Martin Freeman, you can feel their characters’ decades long friendship fizz and pop with expectation and disappointment at every turn. The verbal interplay between them is at times dizzying.

What a talent writer Tony Schumaker is. Since watching this show, I’ve sought out his other works for clues to how to so masterfully weave many subplots together.

The tension that builds between Chris and Rachel, the partner forced upon him and the way their friendship unfolds is beautiful to watch. The rookie, played with aplomb by Adelayo Adedayo, galvanises Chris at the critical moment.

It’s hard not to empathise with Chris. Who hasn’t felt at times like a caricature of who you were two years ago before the madness descended? He knows what he needs to do, but feels powerless to act until everything reaches breaking point.

When Chris sees his shrink, these are scenes you expect to expand his character like Tony Soprano, who is perhaps the only other character in recent memory that it’s possible to both be reviled by and root for at the same time.

Each meeting manages to belittle him. Reaching a tragic crescendo, when she calls him the wrong name and admits she can’t remember who he is because ‘there’s just too many of you.’

Matthew Cottle, who viewers of a certain vintage will recognise as mild-mannered marathon brew making Martin from BBC 2 sitcom Game On, makes a perfectly timed cameo to show viewers the virtue in Chris’ unorthodox actions.

Reflecting The Responder’s humanity back at him. He is desperately trying to be a good man. But he ‘can’t remember the last time he did anything good.’

The pressure reaches fever pitch and brings out the best in him. Leaving potential for another story. Calls for a second series, please respond.