Sundance Imports Babylon: See See TV

Liz Garvey holds a PR meeting with her London police clients in the premiere episode of Babylon.
Babylon (Photo: Dean Rogers / Sundance)

UK import Babylon tackles police corruption and media saturation with timely and biting satire. You need to watch this.

Show

Babylon, a political satire based in London which airs on Sundance at 10pm on Thursdays. The show originally aired in the UK this past November.

Premise

Public Relations expert Liz Garvey (Brit Manning) has been brought in to manage the image of the London police, currently under the leadership of Commissioner Richard Miller. Many of the problems involve personnel—a SWAT team cop with undiagnosed PTSD; a group of goof-off officers who are being filmed for a documentary; a junior PR rep who lost out on a promotion once Garvey was brought in—but also personal. Miller makes Peter Capaldi seem like Shirley Temple by comparison, which doesn’t help when testifying in hearings about the possible privatization of police services.

Lineage

The series is an co-production from Sundance, which has made waves with An Honourable Woman and The Red Road, and the UK’s Channel 4. Academy Award winner Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire28 Days Later) along with writers Sam Bain (Peep Show) and Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show and The Thick of It) are executive producers. The DNA is immediately apparent.

Who is Babylon For?

Watch this clip from the 1976 movie Network. Your reaction while watching should determine whether or not Babylon is for you:

What Works

To be clear, Babylon is not quite at the level of Paddy Chayefsky, but my goodness how close it comes at times. The satire here is in the analysis of police corruption in a media saturated world. The first episode opens almost like the “Previously on [Insert Reality Show Here]” segment that had me convinced I was watching the second or third episode of the series by mistake. So much of the story is told through characters watching video: on TV, on phones, in the playback of a camera, in surveillance footage, in drone surveillance footage. Set in a city as closely monitored as London, the shenanigans that are successfully kept under wraps thanks to a well-oiled PR machine are hilarious and, at times, disturbing.

What Doesn’t Play for the Cameras

Keep in mind this show is a UK production, which means some accents are thick and the slang may be impenetrable.1 Also, like all good satire: this shit is grim. The crisis-of-the-week in the first episode “Craven Wood” involved a riot at the youth institution of the same name. Well, not really a riot, more of a disturbance…okay, fine, an extreme disturbance.

Does This Pass the Bechdel Test?2

There are only four female characters of note at this point: Garvey, her assistant Mia (Ella Smith), and officers Sharon Franklin (Nicola Walker) and Davina (Jill Halfpenny). The only two who had a conversation are Garvey and Mia at a girls’ night out, but they talked about a dude briefly. One of the tensions in the story is that Garvey is in work mode 24/7, so don’t expect a passing grade in this area.

Verdict

DVR Babylon. Savor Babylon. Watch it watch it watch it.

  1. The Sundance site has a guide to slang and an insult translator—both a nice touch.  
  2. 1. Two named female characters 2. have a conversation 3. about something other than a man.  

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About Mike McComb 656 Articles
Mike has been writing about TV online since 2008, when he started the blog WTF Little House on the Prairie? The blog was a project to practice writing about television analytically prior to getting an MA in Television-Radio-Film from Syracuse University, or as he likes to call it "TV Camp." After a lengthy stint at TVLatest, Mike wanted to launch a site that brought in classic TV, diamonds in the rough, and the shows everybody watches. E-mail: mike@whatelseison.tv