Review by C.J. Bunce
BritBox may not be the #1 streaming service around, but thanks to the pandemic its subscriptions have reportedly doubled this year. And you’d think that would give a series like Wild Bill the possibility of a second chance. Wild Bill was a 2019 British series in the great tradition of police procedurals featuring coppers with attitude starring the unlikely lead in a British series, Rob Lowe. It’s probably Rob Lowe’s best personal performance to date, and certainly his most mature role, yet the series was canceled by production company ITV after the first season. And that was a scrawny British season of six episodes, not 10 or 13 like we’d find on this side of the pond, which makes it doubly unfortunate to lose a series with so much promise. Since American viewership has brought a new life to all things British TV, you’d think that might mean something, but apparently British television studios don’t like making money over here.
Sometimes you’re looking for that quality TV escape and you don’t have time to fit in a full show. In that case, make a bookmark, a placeholder, or other notation to check out Wild Bill when you can. Lowe plays Chief Constable Bill Hixon, the “Wild Bill” of the title, an American police administrative type notorious for making departments more efficient. His wife died and his teenage daughter tried to commit suicide, so why not relocate to the dreary rural town of Boston… Boston, Lincolnshire, where everyone seems to be miserable all the time. Is he a pawn for something nefarious going on in little Boston town? Sure, and that’s the fun of it.
Is a gloomy town of down-on-their-luck tradesmen and a police department that warrants a 600-headcount reduction for not reducing crime a positive environment for a father and his daughter? It turns out it may be exactly the right place for these two, and that dichotomy between father and daughter and the idea that some people will never be happy but can forge ahead anyway gets some brief but thoughtful discourse in the series. Kyle Killen was an executive producer on the series, and he also wrote for the Jason Isaacs series Awake, an equally good one-season series canceled before its time which also smartly explored parent-child separation and bonds with similar finesse.
Aloreia Spencer plays Bill’s teenage daughter, but her story really is a tangent to the crimes about town. Think of all the myriad dark activity in the British police procedural Shetland, but with the stark beauty of Scotland swapped for muddy farm fields, and you’ll have a good idea of the setting for the series. Rob Lowe is always at center stage in the series, oh-so serious in that familiar stodgy, WWII-esque, Brit police uniform, but there’s plenty of room for some other great actors only just gaining some traction in the story–at least as much as you can get with only six hours. And that includes Rachael Stirling (Snow White and the Huntsman, The Bletchley Circle series, Tipping the Velvet) as a local judge Bill is instantly drawn to. The daughter of the late Diana Rigg is always compelling in each role she takes on, and that is true here as well. Bronwyn James (The ABC Murders, Outlander) plays the other important role in the series, a detective constable who assists Bill in both adapting to the local oddities while also being on the pink-slip list, and that’s not the only thing calling her loyalty into question.
Viewers will get the feeling nobody is on Bill’s side, after all he’s an immigrant to England, and, as the last two episodes make clear, immigrants, whether from Poland or elsewhere, have challenges wherever they end up these days. Anjli Mohindra (The Sarah Jane Adventures, Doctor Who) plays another cop working for Bill, and she is dead set against him at every turn, too, even after her teenage son befriends Bill’s daughter. Familiar face Anthony Flanagan (Life on Mars, Doctor Who, Shetland, Humans, The Terror) plays another cop, and viewers will get the feeling much more was in store for his character in later seasons–he, too, doesn’t love the American taking over the force, yet he seems to not let his feelings get in the way of his duties.
You won’t get enough time to get completely absorbed in the dreary burgh of Boston, Lincolnshire, but you might think of it as a quick weekend business trip. Rob Lowe and the rest of the cast are great, and the scripts are typical British police procedural that fans of the genre will find familiar but welcome with some light humor to offset the darker bits. Highly recommended, watch Wild Bill, now streaming on BritBox via Amazon in the U.S.