Channel 4 has a new let’s-put-cameras-in-a-place-where-trauma-might-happen-and-record-the-deeply-human-stories hourlong. It follows various members of Brighton’s police force as they attempt to control the great revellers of the city every Friday and Saturday night. The problem here of course is: when you put cameras in a delivery room for One Born Every Minute, there hasn’t been an inquiry into the entire industry of midwifing this year, with the city’s head midwife being forced to resign. When I watch Emergency Helicopter Medics, it isn’t immediately after a full summer spent watching news footage of helicopter medics flying into the people they are supposed to be saving, blades first. As recently as summer 2020 people were asking whether Paw Patrol contributed to the ever-present cultural phenomenon of copaganda: now it’s 2022 and I’m already watching a “The police are all right, aren’t they? The police are normal!” series where one of the officers is 20 years old and did most of his training on Zoom.
Sadly, it’s also very well made, gorgeously shot and very, very human, so they’ve got me in a (legal) headlock here. Night Coppers (Tuesday, 9pm, Channel 4) follows various members of the Brighton police force as they slurp McDonald’s in their cars, get baffled by an arson, need eight or nine officers to pin one drunk man’s legs down, and keep going into pubs to ask if they can see their CCTV. It’s not overly dressed as a show where the police are the only line between ourselves and the demonic impulses of always-lurking baddies. Instead, it acts more like a very exquisite portrait of the British night, from that 11pm moment when someone’s already gone home crying, to that darker, grimier, quieter era between the dark hours of the morning and sunrise: bodies lying prone in the road; drunks who have fallen into bushes; lights turning off and on in houses as someone (What is it? Who is it?) does something in the park across the way.
It is possible, then, to watch Night Coppers and focus more on the night than the coppers. In that respect, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better document of what drunk British people look like around midnight. A man has blood specked down his jacket from a wound he cannot see; a girl has stumbled out of a chip shop in a way her and her friends are going to be laughing about for the next two days; a man with his hands cuffed in front of his chest explains how he’s a good bloke, a solid bloke, he wouldn’t start anything like that, Merry Christmas.
You see impulsive liars and the quiet, irresistible energy of someone who just wants to go home. You see men who think they are sober very confidently say something absolutely nonsensical and useless. People cry at very small acts of generosity and kindness, while others are willing to go to war over very minor social infractions. Crowds move like fish while walking and eating chips, past people covered in blankets and waiting for an ambulance. I’ve never really seen it like this because I’ve always been drunk myself, but we really do stop being human out there, in the far reaches of the drunken psyche. “I always find it quite comical,” 26-year-old Sophie tells us, “because it’s so bizarre to see fully grown men lose the ability to talk to each other.” She’s right.
But I’m still not sure I’m in the mood to watch the police who crawl all over the night try to tell us how human they are. Here we meet Will, who is 22, and is convinced he has a babyface that only a weak beard will really hide: I do not care. His partner Matt has slim to no idea about what he’s doing – his specialism is “telling Deliveroo drivers they need business insurance” – and I do not really care. Sophie and her partner tell us over a meal deal that their fish got ill when they were on holiday and I really do not care. The best moment is when an officer gets his hat knocked off then loses a foot race with the guy who did it and is clearly really embarrassed.
In that sense, it’s just about possible to watch Night Coppers the same way I watched Tottenham in the Champions League final (I wasn’t happy they were there, but I was glad they were losing). But in a broader sense, it’s quite hard to meet the protagonists of this one, read the news even once, then decide to be on their side. A very valiant attempt at police PR, but one with fairly questionable timing.