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'The Bill - The Complete First Series'
(Ashley Gunstock, Ralph Brown, Ronnie Cush, et al / 4-Disc DVD / NR / (1984) 2007 / Brentwood Home Video)

Overview: Since its 1984 debut, the long-running U.K. television series THE BILL has captivated British audiences with its dramatic take on the policier formula. In addition to offering standard crimefighting procedurals, the emotionally absorbing series focuses on the personal lives of the men and women who staff London's Sun Hill Police Station. This collection presents the beloved series' first season in its entirety.

DVD Verdict: As an ex-Pat, I have to admit, I rather chuckled to myself when this release arrived here in the office for review ... that’s before I realized the show’s original release date and I began to feel very old, very quickly!

THE BILL is what could be maybe considered a bit of a “British Television Institution.” Along with other long running programs such as CORINATION STREET, CASULTY or EASTENDERS, THE BILL has made British primetime weekday viewing for what it is (for better or worse) for over the last two decades. It’s not a program that I personally ever intentionally set out to put within my viewing schedule, but due to my parent’s addiction for such shows, I was by default exposed to a large amount of while still a child since its initial release in 1984.

The show centers around the Sun Hill Police Station and the daily lives of the officers who work there, “fighting crime” on the streets of inner city London, dealing with issues from bomb threats to armed robbery, to drug raids to prostitution, as well as internal corruption and some light relief dealing with the frustrating stupidity of the general public! Many of the characters are given equal screen time, dealing with their personal as well as professional lives, so that their related plots usually interweave to build up each episode’s bigger picture.

This reliable formula won over the hearts of millions of viewers so that what started out as a once weekly showing soon became a steady serialized format, winning along the way the “National Television Award” for the best TV Drama.

In recent years the show had started to rapidly lose viewers as the show’s original producer Richard Handford said his farewells in 2002, to be replaced by the less favoured Paul Marquess who proceeded to axe many of the show’s long standing crew and script writing team, turning it more from a sturdy and realistic police drama into a more lightweight and far fetched soap opera, which left many fans of the show in disarray.

What’s presented here however are the show’s first 11 one hour episodes from its heyday, plus the original pilot not shown since it was first released. While THE BILL is unlikely to be something that appeals to fans of harder hitting US cop shows such as HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET or CSI, it would probably go down well with fans of the decidedly more quaint British approach to cop dramas such as the SWEENEY or CALLAN. In other words rather than bullets flying left, right and centre, there’s an awful lot of “C’here Sunshine, you’re nicked…” type dialogue going on.

The extra features are a strong addition to the set, especially the original pilot “Woodentop”, which may be the first opportunity many viewers have had to see the episode. This is supported by an informative making of featurette and also an interesting 2nd featurette titled “The London Beat” which deals which deals with the history of British Crime Dramas. And while not a series that everyone will be into, this is something that committed fans will want to add to their DVD collection. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) and comes with the Special Features of:

Bonus - Pilot Episode - "Woodentop"
Behind the Creation of The Bill - An insightful overview of the creation and legacy of this groundbreaking drama series
The London Beat Featurette - A look at the success of various U.K. crime/drama TV series including The Bill, The Sweeney and Callan
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