Citizen Of Martinaise is the Responder
The Responder is a dodgy-cop drama in the same vein as The Shield. It only goes off the rails after it’s over. It then falls prey to the same fate as fiction about troubled persons – all the problems in the narrative are resolved, so, ‘I guess’, it can be heard shrugging, the mental problems that the main character is experiencing are also addressed.
(Part of the reason The Sopranos was so great was that its mentally unwell and fundamentally corrupt frontman did get better.
Martin Freeman is the foundation of this whole building, and I have to do him this disservice with great reluctance. He’s able to do an excellent scouse accent, something many scousers fail at. The man is a salesman. Even though he has bags under his eyes that are large enough for him to take on an extended vacation,
Freeman has come to a long distance to be where he is today. I don’t mean the actor. His humble beginnings as Tim from The Office and as a player in an early Mitchell and Webb sketch program would have left many people who knew him back then to be unable to recognize him in Sherlock and The Hobbit. There is an even wider gap in recognition between now and then. The Office’s Tim might be scared of The Responder’s copper down a dark alley.
In truth, it’s easy to describe Freeman as “troubled” without understating his performance. The sheer weight of the world is visible in everything Freeman says and does draw closer to the ‘tortured territory. And The Responder doesn’t make the mistake of revealing one reason for his woes. Although there are many possible sources, you will likely be able to rattle off your reasons for feeling so inadequate and insecure.
Freeman is a character that we can all understand, no matter what he does. Freeman wants to be good. He tries. But it isn’t an easy task. It takes hard work. Sometimes, actual suffering is what he suffers. He has been affected by the everyday pressures of his life. Is there anyone who doesn’t feel that way?
Cop drama is a well-established TV style. It includes the police procedural to the single-named super detective drama to more cynical pieces on cops on the get. For most of the time, however, I was glued to the 2019 murder mystery video game Disco Elysium. It couldn’t be an exact adaptation because Disco Elysium, which is too dense, cerebral, and gamified, cannot be properly adapted to any medium other than the tabletop RPG.
Disco Elysium portrays you as a copper muzzily, coming to after a world ending breakdown. This is exactly the kind of thing Freeman spent most of The Responder on the edge. It could have easily been The Prequel if The Responder had ended on a more bitter note and hit a Life On Mars-style reality shifting.
This parallel came about because both works feature a pair vulgar street ragamuffins. Marco and Casey, the Responder’s middle-of-town duo, are slightly older and less aggressive that Disco Elysium Cuno, and Cunoesse. However, they would have a good chance in an open audition. Their kind of flotsam, shitsam is close the scene sets in a way that no establishing shot could.
Disco Elysium’s worldbuilding is a highlight. It creates a planet that looks very similar to ours, but it also has a lot of unique facets. This is an unwieldy narrative choice that can’t be easily adapted to any genre without a lot of reading material.
If you had to choose a placeholder for Disco Elysium’s district of Martinaise, Liverpool would be good. It is a significant port town at a crossroads between two cultures. The archipelago, the traditional centre of the globe, is a dismal and decrepit place. They’re very much the same as before, despite their accents.
Disco Elysium’s sheer volume was something I mentioned earlier. I don’t mean text, but entire volumes. Even though it’s a lot of work, your subconscious will often chime in on the events if they have anything to say. This includes the ‘chills’ always ready to set the scene with hardboiled noir monologues. Although this would not work on TV, Freeman’s moments in extreme stress are as good as any television show. His facial acting and his piercing white noise are a great combination.
Disco Elysium is notable for having two mysteries running in tandem. The first mystery is the traditional ‘who committed the murder?’ while the second is a more obscure ‘how did this person get to be in such a state?’ The Responder is not privy to the crime scene and takes the second as a given. Unlike usual, where the victim’s story is told in pieces, the Responder tells it all.
You won’t get the entire story laid out in Wikipedia-style. However, you will have enough information to make an educated guess. The journey to discover the protagonist’s rarely-runs-straight story is frighteningly intense in both cases.
Only if The Responder could find a partner as talented as Disco Elysium’s humorous and stoic Kim Kitsuragi, Adebayo Adedayo is Adebayo Adedayo’s rookie cop. Her side story provides little more than a distraction. Although the idea behind the show is that she’s weak, a stereotype of a walking, inexperienced and unseasoned rookie cop, the entire episode spends five hours hammering on that single point.
This is not Adedayo’s fault. She can only use what she has, and this kitchen sink disaster goes nowhere and adds no value.
It’s a shame because the rest are significant, including Ian Hart, who’s has been keeping a dead-on Scouse twang in the back pocket and David Bradley, who is the same incomprehensible treat that he was in Hot Fuzz. Josh Finan’s Marco and Emily Fairn’s Casey are two of the natural double-acts that will likely be featured in Inside No. 9
I already mentioned that The Responder’s attempts to tie everything up fell flat. This is partially due to authenticity. The mind rejects the notion that this world can be tidied up, despite being presented with a vast and complex world.
Disco Elysium is the same. Although the game’s open-ended nature suits this gritty messiness well, it is somewhat like returning to Earth with a bump. It all started with a dreamy, almost magical air. Now, we are beginning to diverge. Nothing About The Responder is dreamy or mystical.
The one thing that they share is their ability to be so easily realized you can get lost in them. Jump headfirst in and stay there for quite a while. This is not escapism, and it’s not living in another world. It is an escape from your reality into a very different one (NB: This may not apply to serving police officers).
‘Slices of life’ are a term that is used in fanfiction in the same way that ‘coffeeshop AU’ is in fanfiction. It describes works where characters plod along doing their daily lives and little else. It’s borderline cosy. Both in Disco Elysium and The Responder much occurs. They are slices of life, but they are slices of another’s lives. Once you have your breath back, you might be grateful for a less boring life.