There’s a segment in John Mulaney’s 2018 comedy special Kid Gorgeous in Radio City in which the American stand-up attempts to grapple with the phenomenon of Donald Trump’s presidency via a prolonged analogy – delivered in increasingly incredulous tones – of there being “a horse loose in a hospital”.
I find myself in a very similar situation now, with the advent of ITV’s new police drama Wild Bill into our lives. Because, look, I don’t really know how to put this so that you’ll believe me, so I’ll just say it as simply as I can: Wild Bill is ITV’s new drama and it stars Rob Lowe as the new chief constable of East Lincolnshire police. There’s a horse loose in the hospital.
Would it help if I added that he plays a former high-flying Miami cop, Bill Hixon, who has relocated to England with his 14-year-old daughter for Reasons Yet Unidentified? Or would that just make things much, much worse? I’ll give you a few moments to try to repair the rips in the space-time continuum this news has created for anyone old enough to remember the heady Brat Pack days when Lowe became a star, appearing in the era-defining likes of St Elmo’s Fire and About Last Night (as well as a leaked sex tape, but perhaps we need not dwell on that). His second act began when he was cast as smooth deputy White House communications director Sam Seaborn in The West Wing and, having proved to have doughty acting chops lurking beneath his screen idol look, he has been busy ever since.
And now there’s a horse loose in the hospital. I’m sorry, I mean now he is playing a chief constable, Bill Hixon, here to take charge of the recalcitrant members of the (fictional) East Lincolnshire constabulary in ITV’s new police drama Wild Bill. I may have said that before. I’m just trying to make it real for us all.
We first meet Bill in smart tux and battered Volvo as he chases a carful of villains across a cabbage field. They escape. He starts venting his rage on some cabbages and we cut to one week earlier to find out how he got there. I was hoping we would reopen in Lowe’s agent’s office, but no. We arrive at his arrival in Boston, quickly and undeftly established not as the sleepy little town of our collective imaginings but the real one, which has the highest murder rate in England and the worst record of racial and ethnic integration.
It’s OK, though, because Bill is a modern cop with modern tools to hand – namely: algorithms. They crop up a lot over the hour, even if you don’t include the one that must have designed Lowe’s still comically beautiful face. A thief nicking satellite dishes off the council estate? Bill’s got an algorithm for that. “I could police this whole county from Miami Beach with a cellphone and good wifi,” he assures his assembled subordinates. The thief is caught, but in doing so one of the arresting officers notices a semi-naked man keening in front of a fridge that contains the head of a young woman who has been missing for 10 years. Computate that, Miami man!
Further down the line, DC Muriel Yeardsley (a rather brilliant comic-where-necessary turn from Bronwyn James) uses another algorithm to reconstruct the movements of the woman’s then-boyfriend Marek (Julian Kostov) when she disappeared. This used to be called basic police work and I am a bit surprised they didn’t do it at the time, but this is one of many points at which the plot of Wild Bill reveals itself to have been created by an all-too-human hand, and so we must accept and move on.
No spoilers, but one marijuana farm, a Russian gangster (it’s his minions leading Bill a merry dance among the cabbages), a couple of good lines (“No one likes a boaster,” says Crime Commissioner Metcalfe when Bill reveals Miami had 150 murders compared with Boston’s 10 the previous year) and an absolutely hilarious denouement atop a wind turbine later, the murder is solved, Bill has decided to stay in Lincolnshire and we can all press pause and take a moment to think about what we have just witnessed.
A horse loose in a hospital. If you can avoid getting trampled by the hooves of insanity galloping through it, there’s enough to make Wild Bill a good way to fill the commercial hour. I just never thought I would live long enough to see it.