There are no TV series bigger, or better, than Line of Duty. Recently named the United Kingdom’s most-watched drama of the 21st century, the series moves to BritBox in the United States, where Line of Duty series 6 is available to stream starting today.
Series 6 is the season to top all seasons—not only does it introduce Kelly Macdonald (State of Play) as the new antagonist, not only does it add Shalom Brune-Franklin (Bad Mothers) to the AC-12 team, but it also has some major clues fans have been waiting for.
With all that in mind, I had the pleasure of talking to creator and showrunner Jed Mercurio about developing the new season, the timeliness of the material, and whether or not Steve Arnott would finally catch a break this time around. Check out our spoiler-free interview before you stream new episodes on BritBox now.
Brittany Frederick: Did you have planned out all the way to Line of Duty season 6? Or did you even think you’d make it to a series 6?
Jed Mercurio: I think we’ve been incredibly fortunate, and I think if you’d told us 10 years ago when we were shooting season 1 that we’d still be on air now, that we’d have a record-breaking sixth season, I honestly wouldn’t have believed it. We started as a small show, we did our best effort to try and make it a good show that connected with viewers, but you just have no idea when something airs whether it will find an audience. So we certainly feel very fortunate and privileged.
BF: The show feels more timely than ever with its focus on anti-corruption given the current issues about policing worldwide. Add in the COVID-19 pandemic, and what was it like for you to write and film this season?
JM: The COVID pandemic threw an enormous challenge at us. We had to shut down mid-season shooting, and when we came back, we had to change some of our locations. We were shooting with usually two units working every day. We tend to shoot in blocks of say two episodes at a time, where [this season] we were shooting all the scenes of all the episodes at the same time, just to improve the logistics to give us a fighting chance of beating the virus and keeping everybody healthy during the shoot, so big, big challenges.
And in terms of the content, we were looking at some new themes. But I think all over the world, people have been thinking about their relationship with policing and what kind of police forces we want in our societies. And as it happens, some of the issues that we started off exploring before the shutdown turned out to be prescient. We were dealing with, for example, systemic racism, police misconduct, and that turned out, tragically, to be something that a lot of people became aware of over last summer.
BF: Line of Duty is legendary for its lengthy interview scenes. The actors have spoken openly about the challenge of performing them, but what is it like for you to write these sort of micro-plays in each episode?
JM: The big part of writing the interview scenes is figuring out structurally the right point in the story to embark on them. The way the show works is kind of a cat-and-mouse thriller, so the Internal Affairs unit, AC-12, always is attempting to chase down a corrupt police officer. And generally the corrupt police officer is going to want to avoid them…So we have this mechanism in the show, which is just in real-world policing, where they can bring a police officer in for interview and they can put probing questions to them that have potential to find out more about their misconduct. So it’s really about reaching a point in the story where they’ve got new information and they’ve also got the kind of information that really turns the screws on the cop they’re investigating.
BF: I’m particularly partial to Steve Arnott, Martin Compston’s character, and Steve has had a rough couple of series. Is there any chance he catches a break in season 6?
JM: Steve had kind of an interesting journey over the six seasons. He started out as an idealistic police officer, but also someone who really played very fast and loose in his personal life. He’s been forced to mature and confront his personal issues really since season 4, when he was seriously injured in the line of duty, and he hasn’t fully recovered from his injuries but he’s attempting to conceal his pain. And he needs to just keep working because of the loneliness that he’s experienced and as a result of his personal problems. That’s something that we dig into and break new ground with in season 6.
BF: Speaking of characters, you introduce Kelly Macdonald’s character as the new antagonist this series, and you also added a new team member to AC-12. What do you look for in terms of casting, because especially in Kelly’s role, you’re looking for someone the audience is going to want to follow all season long.
JM: Kelly Macdonald, we’d all been big fans of her work over the years, and knew she’d be a great antagonist for the show, so it was an absolute pleasure when she agreed to join Line of Duty. Really, it’s part of our plan that each season introduces a brand new guest lead, someone that the audience and the Internal Affairs characters are meeting for the first time.
What that does for the show is that it makes each season totally accessible to new viewers, because you don’t need to know anything that’s gone before to get into this new character and this new story. And then as the seasons go on, then we can call back previous seasons that reward the loyal viewers. But you can follow and appreciate the current season without any prior knowledge.
BF: Yet you layer in the mythology of the series quite well. Did you create Line of Duty with the idea that these seasons would interconnect in the ongoing mystery or was that something that’s evolved as the show has gone on?
JM: Actually, it’s something that’s become more part of the show as we’ve advanced through the seasons. With season 2, we do have a small callback to season 1, and that was a decision we made at the time because we felt it was kind of interesting…Really, it’s kind of been in the last couple of seasons that we’ve found a balance where there’s just so much kind of legacy now of previous seasons, of things that we can come at from a different angle, or things we’ve just deliberately left open, so that we can reward loyal fans with callbacks to previous events.
BF: Because you have that ongoing material and also the case of the season, the show is so tightly plotted. Has there been anything that you’ve wanted to do in this season or any other that just didn’t make it onto the screen?
JM: We go through a lot of drafts, and there are some things that are in kind of planning, but the season would then turn out not to work when they’re drafted or they’re dramatized.
Other times, it’s a practical problem that we might want to bring a character back, but the actor isn’t available for our shooting dates so we’re not able to do it. But we normally act in advance so that we’re not committed before we know about an actor’s availability.
And then other times, there are things that we like that, on balance, may be too self-referential, that they’re directing the viewer to remember previous seasons in too much detail, so it ends up being something that’s very hard to dramatize with forward momentum.
BF: Is there anything about Line of Duty that you feel has been overlooked? As so much has been written and said about the show, whether it’s from critics or very astute fans.
JM: I think that people are fairly smart about picking up what’s going on in each season and the references we’re making. And I think we’re incredibly fortunate with the show, that we are followed by some smart viewers who are constantly picking up what we’re trying to do.
Line of Duty series 6 is now available on BritBox. Check it out with a 7-day free trial for new subscribers.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.