Posted: 03/23/2008

 

The Vice – The Complete First Season

(1999)

by Jef Burnham



Available from MPI Home Video on March 25th


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The very first shot of this British series offers the terrified visage of a prostitute being raped. In the face of my personal distaste for the apathy typical of American series such as CSI and its spin-offs, this did not bode well (and that’s all I’ll say about The Vice’s disgusting American counterparts in this review). But I’m very pleased to say that I was unnecessarily discouraged by these first few moments, as the series turned out to be a superior piece of television with some superb performances. However, I must warn that the graphic content, including large amounts of sex and nudity, make The Vice anything but a family show.

The structure of the series is very different from anything we see in The States. Composed of six 50-minute episodes, the season covers three central storylines in two-part segments. Essentially, each of the three stories is a feature-length film in itself. Unfortunately, this makes the season go by even quicker, which is, frankly, the last thing you want when embedded in a good series, but it’s hardly a fault.

Ken Stott (The Singing Detective) stars as Inspector Pat Chappel, the head of the vice unit in London’s Metropolitan Police Service. He is predictably a divorced workaholic, but his unique morals and deference for the victims he encounters, primarily the prostitutes, is what makes the character not only intriguing, but distinct among the innumerable inspectors in television drama. Severely misunderstood by the rest of the Service, Chappel must constantly defend his relaxed policies toward prostitutes, explaining “It’s the crime within the crime we’re interested in.”

In contrast to Chappel is the unit’s ambitious rookie, Police Constable Dougie Raymond, who unsettlingly develops an increasing interest in the hard-core pornography and prostitutes he is assigned to investigate. Raymond is admirably played by Marc Warren (BBC’s Dracula), who I was only familiar with from his affable guest appearance as a would-be supernatural detective in the 2006 season of Doctor Who. I am very impressed with Warren’s work so far and hope to see him more often in the future.

Given that the series is limited in that it revolves around a vice unit, it should come as no surprise that all three stories deal heavily with porn and prostitution, though there is some variety in the particulars. Substitute teenage boys as the prostitutes in question in the second and third episodes, for instance. From the vantage point of the vice unit, however, we are still privy to cases involving kidnapping, murder and blackmail, which are Chappel’s crimes within the crimes.

For an American viewer, the dynamic of criminals without firearms facing a police service without firearms is very interesting, requiring the officers to be fit, alert, and ready for a fight. Instead of being able to yell, “Freeze,” the officers must chase, catch and subdue the suspects in order to handcuff them, which is not always easy as, one criminal in particular comes at them with a pipe.

Also appearing in the series is Anna Chancellor (Suburban Shootout, Fortysomething), who I’ve seen in a number of roles and I’m still not sure I like, and Tim McInnerny, who appeared in BBC’s Blackadder with Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie. Not appearing in the series, strangely, is the woman on the far right of the DVD cover, as well as all the DVD main menus. Her character doesn’t join the cast until the 2001 season.

Jef Burnham is a writer and film critic in Chicago.



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