In the UK’s biggest TV drama in decades, cops are the villains

On TV, cops are almost never the bad guys. But one television series has become the most popular in the UK by subverting that long-running trope.

Line of Duty, a BBC drama about an anti-corruption unit on a fictional police force in England, brought in 12.8 million live viewers for the finale of its sixth season yesterday, the Guardian reported. The BBC said that was the biggest audience for any single episode of British TV since 2001 (not including soap operas). It outperformed even the most-watched episodes of series like Doctor Who and Downton Abbey, which are considered to be among the country’s most popular of all time.

What makes Line of Duty unique—and perhaps why it’s so appealing to viewers right now—is that it’s one of the few mainstream TV dramas throughout history in which the major villains are all police officers, called “bent coppers” in the show. Series like Dragnet, The Wire, and Watchmen have all touched on issues of police misconduct, but Line of Duty stands mostly alone in its unflinching look at widespread corruption within police departments. As several countries begin to reckon with police brutality, Line of Duty‘s soaring popularity shouldn’t be surprising as one of the few shows that dares to paint the police in a negative light.

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