From lacklustre beginnings Better slowly builds momentum and tension with brilliant performances and a strong story, but is it setting out on its own or travelling a well-worn path of those before it?
Detective inspector Lou Slack (Leila Farzad) is a hard-nosed, intelligent and well-decorated police officer within the Leeds Drug Crimes unit. She has built her career on the back of her tenacity but unbeknown to most in her early days Lou befriended a local small-time dealer the charismatic, soft-spoken yet somewhat terrifying Col McHugh (Andrew Buchan). Over the last 20 years Lou and Col have formed a strange friendship, Col has climbed the ranks of his own criminal empire to be the man in charge while Lou has been helped in not only her career but when faced with financial hardship Col bailed the family out with Lou indebted to him further ever since.
In the first episode we see just how far in the hole Lou is when after a mysterious call during a night out and without question, Lou is summoned to a makeshift drug den where a shootout has taken place and without a second thought collects a left behind the weapon and leaves someone to die. It is done with such a calm, calculated demeanour from her years of working crime scenes it sets the tone early on for what’s to come.
Lou’s son Owen has a brush with death causing her eyes to open and grow a conscience. Being entrenched with a criminal for so long and turning a blind eye to his doings is casting a shadow over every aspect of Lou’s life, rightly so after nearly losing a child her priorities change and now Lou tries to work out a way to bring Col to justice while still keeping herself and her family safe.
Better walks a line that many shows in the same vein have walked before. Dirty cop wakes up to the error of their ways and tries to make amends or career criminal that is looking to either get bigger or get out of the game altogether. These are themes familiar to me in numerous other police dramas from both sides of the Atlantic.
What sets Better apart is the connection between the two main characters. Two characters on either side of the law have this strange bond, a bond not only shared by 20 years of working together but one of legitimate long-time friends. As the series progresses, we start to see both unravelling with their distrust of one another and as more people become involved in what is happening between them, yet with all that is going on that core friendship remains albeit somewhat distorted.
Who is in charge is confusing, is it the drug dealer paying for the dirty cop to live a lavish lifestyle or the dirty cop who is moving chess pieces around behind the scenes and keeping the drug dealer out of prison. When Lou makes her choice to no longer stick to their agreed rules Better turns into an intense game of cat and mouse.
Better is not action-packed but a slow burn character-driven drama, not usually up my alley but it was able to have me wanting to start the next episode as soon as the previous ended. Farzad is convincing in her portrayal of the conflicted detective trying to do the right thing while still keeping her family and career safe. Lou is played in a way that makes you feel a connection to her struggles, she is driven and endearing all the while with cracks beginning to open. Buchan can be downright menacing at times, cool, calm and collected in the delivery of every line portraying a fear that his next move was just around the corner. Both are at their best when playing off each other. Each scene together builds more questions
With each of the five episodes in the season clocking in at just under an hour Better never outstayed its welcome. It’s walking a path many have walked before it and that isn’t a bad thing, after all it is a tried and trusted formula, but you can see many of the twists and turns coming from a mile away. While Better’s themes and plot feel a little familiar, its characters alone make this well worth your time. Pacing is a little slow as the story and characters are fleshed out but ramps up when it is needed and leaves each part of the story tied up nicely. Better saves its best for last.
You can stream Better now on Binge.
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