Better: everything to know about the new hit BBC police thriller


etter, BBC’s new police thriller, has been causing a buzz since its release earlier this month. Not only is the five-part series from the producers of HBO’s award-winning drama Chernobyl, but it stars I Hate Suzie star Leila Farzad and Broadchurch actor Andrew Buchan.

To top it all off, the show came hot on the heels of Happy Valley. Given that the Sally Wainwright police thriller was the most-watched TV programme of the year so far (with 7.5 million people tuning in for the final) there was a tonne of expectation around Better. But while some people love the police show, others have been left disappointed.

With so much going on, here’s everything to know about the major BBC show.

What’s it about?

As with Happy Valley, Better is set in West Yorkshire (this time in Leeds) and focuses on a female police officer. But, unlike Happy Valley’s Sergeant Cawood, right and wrong is less black and white for DI Lou Slack (Farzad). DI Slack has spent close to two decades taking money from big-time drug dealer Col McHugh (Buchan) and the pair have become close over the years (they are affectionate together, and it seems that there could have been a physical relationship at some point).

Over the years their arrangement has served them both well; she’s risen to the top of her profession aided by his tip-offs and he’s managed to conduct his business while evading arrest. But Slack is thrown off balance when her son, Owen, nearly dies of an illness, and she decides it’s time to change her corrupt ways. But how can she, after being entangled with McHugh for so many years? Who is she professionally without his support? And what will happen to her carefully constructed life if she tries to withdraw from their longtime arrangement?

In the synopsis the BBC said: “She must put right the wrongs that she has spent years rationalising and excusing, to have a second chance at a new, better life.”

Who is in it?

Leila Farzad as DI Lou Slack in Better

/ BBC/Sister Pictures

As well as starring Farzad and Buchan, the show features Samuel Edward-Cook (Peaky Blinders) as Ceri Davies, Lou’s husband; Anton Lesser (Andor) as Vernon Marley, a former bent policeman who took a deal to quietly leave the force; and Zak Ford-Williams (Wolfe) as Owen Davies, Lou and Ceri’s teenage son.

Kaya Moore (Love, Lies and Records) plays Noel Wilkes, one of Col’s employees and Carolin Stoltz (Emmerdale) plays Alma, Col’s wife.

Ceallach Spellman (Cold Feet), Olivia Nakintu (Vera), Joseph Steyne (The War Below), Anthony Lewis (Torchwood), Junade Khan (Game of Thrones), Gavin Spokes (House of the Dragon) and Charley Webb (Emmerdale) also star.

Who is behind it?

The show has been created and written by Jonathan Brackley and Sam Vincent, who co-wrote the 2015 robo-drama Humans, and MI-5, the 2015 Spooks spin-off film which starred Kit Harington and Jennifer Ehle. Speaking about making the show, Brackley said: “What we want to explore is exactly what it means to be good or to be a bad person, and how can you even tell?”

Vincent said: “Everybody’s criteria for whether or not they, or somebody in their lives, are good or bad is wildly different. You know, we all see it through our own perspective and we’re trying to capture that in the show somehow.”

The show has been produced by SISTER, the production company that made HBO’s 2019 disaster drama Chernobyl, BBC’s adaptation of Adam Kay’s best-selling novel, This is Going to Hurt (2022), Giri/Haji (2019) and Gangs of London (2020-2022). With so many impressive productions under their belt, expectation was sky-high for Better.

What have the critics said?

Olivia Nakintu as DC Esther Okoye in Better

/ BBC/Sister Pictures/Vishal Sharma

The reviews from critics have been mixed, with The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Telegraph and RadioTimes giving it three stars, The Standard giving it two stars, and The Independent giving it four stars.

The Standard said that despite the strong female lead and acclaimed producers it didn’t meet the mark, saying: “Put it this way: if Line of Duty and Happy Valley are masterpieces in oil, Better is dot-to-dot with crayons.” The Telegraph said: “This is no Line of Duty.”

But others have been kinder, arguing that the series gets better after the scene-setting first episode: “I feel a little sorry for Better (BBC One). It’s a police show set in West Yorkshire arriving hot on the heels of Happy Valley, the best police show set in West Yorkshire ever to have blessed our screens,” said one reviewer. “It is very moreish and does get better.”

Another reviewer agreed saying, “The more it goes on, and the more Lou becomes trapped in her moral maze, the better Better seems to get.”

What have viewers said?

As with the reviews, viewers have been mixed in their response to the show.

“Just watched ep5 of BBC crime drama ‘Better’.….hours of my life I’m never going to get back. Like is that it? Don’t know why a good actor like Andrew Buchan is in it,” Tweeted one viewer.

“This was a brilliant series, well acted, gripping, couldn’t wait for the ending…….then, nothing! I was so disappointed did the writers run out of ideas? Money? What was that!! I recommended it to a colleague, when I had watched it all, told her not to bother,” Tweeted a second.

But others couldn’t disagree more: “I loved #HappyValley but hugely enjoyed the very different #better too. Really fascinating following the consequences of people wanting to/ having to change. Loved it,” Tweeted one fan.

Another said: “BBCs #Better – absolutely brilliant. The ending was perfect. A drama about humanity, relationships and redemption told through two anti-heroes, corrupt policing and gangland crime. Feels very different to anything I’ve seen before. Loved it.”

What have the actors said?

The show’s leading actors have said that they found their characters complex and the plot fascinating. “I found the scripts utterly compelling.” said Farzad. “I found the character of Lou to be a brilliant, well-rounded woman, written with humour, wit, and humanity, which isn’t always the case.”

She continued: “Part of what drew me to this project in the first place was that I’ve always been anti-binary when looking at things. There is always grey, and no matter how terrible something appears to be, you must put things in context and understand why they’ve happened rather than just judge.”

Buchan said he found McHugh, “Brilliantly challenging to play, and complex and difficult… Lou is incredibly complex because she has a completely ruthless, callous side to her. But she’s also a loving mother, a loving wife, and a loving friend, and is incredibly bright and good at her job.

“Col McHugh is a very complex, flawed individual, who has had a childhood littered with deprivation and humiliation. He’s been raised by an alcoholic father which has thrown fuel on his fire and given him a drive in life, because he doesn’t want to become his dad. So that’s what propels him forward; this reluctance to emulate or become part of the circle of his family,” Buchan added.

Better is available now on BBC iPlayer

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