The BBC first announced it was making six-part comedy thriller Black Ops back in June 2021 – and boy is it worth the wait.
Created by Famalam’s BAFTA-winning duo of Gbemisola Ikumelo and Akemnji Ndifornyen, it follows two inexperienced Community Support Officers – Ikumelo plays Dom alongside The Wheel of Time’s Hammed Animashaun as Kay – who get recruited into a perilous undercover Met Police operation infiltrating a London drug gang (whose terrifying leader, Tevin, is played by Ndifornyen).
There are so many elements that combine to make Black Ops a joyous must-watch:
1. You’ll Instantly Love The Characters
The sibling-like partnership between Dom and Kay makes us feel immediately at ease in their world. So when the enigmatic DI Clinton Blair (Ariyon Bakare, His Dark Materials) covertly approaches them to join his “off the books” undercover operation in episode one (claiming he needs two young black officers, but the Met keep sending him “middle-aged white guys”), we’re invested in their story from the off.
Dom is smart, quick-thinking but also ultimately immature and quite spoiled – she lives at home with her paediatrician Dad and a stepmother she hates, and at one point elaborately storms out, but not before filling her jacket with food from the fridge.
Kay, on the other hand, is a naive, soft-hearted, man-child who thrives on his Christian faith. When he and Dom end up selling drugs on the street as part of their undercover operation, he thanks his customers and tells them to have a nice day. “It’s good customer service – he’ll come back” he explains, until Dom points out “He’ll come back because he’s addicted to heroin.”
2. The Cast Is Filled With Familiar Faces
A good sign of Black Ops’ quality is the sheer number of recognisable names in the cast, from Doctor Who’s Jo Martin as Dom’s stepmother Julie to Harry Potter’s Zoë Wanamaker, who turns up in Dom and Kay’s investigation as the mysterious Celia, and Happy Valley’s Katherine Kelly as the even more mysterious Kirsty.
Dom and Kay’s fellow police colleagues also include impressive comedy stalwarts like Kerry Howard (Witless), Joanna Scanlan (The Thick of It), Marek Larwood (Murder in Successville) and Alan Partridge’s Felicity Montagu as the decidedly suspect Superintendent.
3. It’s One of The Rare Comedy Dramas That Gets The Balance Perfect
Too often, a billed “comedy drama” is either too light on jokes, or lacks the dramatic urgency needed to fully grip. Black Ops is chock-full of both, an exhilarating blend of high-stakes action and a constant stream of laugh-out-loud jokes to keep you hooked.
At times it’s seriously tense, as Dom and Kay find themselves being threatened by an increasingly menacing Tevin, getting chased through the streets of London, and being forced to do something unthinkable with a dead body. Remarkably, even in these nail-biting moments, Black Ops stays funny.
There are real similarities to shows like the aforementioned Witless (starring Kerry Howard and Zoe Boyle as two women in witness protection), The Wrong Mans – in which James Corden and Ghosts’ Mathew Baynton are office workers who become accidentally involved in a kidnapping – and The Outlaws, in which a group of minor convicts doing community service (including Stephen Merchant and Christopher Walken) discover a bag of cash.
What stands Black Ops apart is it becomes less about dangerous drug gangs and more about police corruption. Or, as Dom puts it, “This is some Line of Duty shit!”
4. The Jokes Are Really Good
As well as plenty of physical comedy, like Kay screaming in fear while the police car he’s in does donuts in the road, his bare behind mooning pensioners out of the window, Black Ops is also slick with properly funny one-liners.
For instance, after Kay encounters an X-rated house party, he describes the scene to Dom as: “There was drugs! There was nudity! Nobody was using a coaster!” And when Dom’s parents chuck her out, she attempts to guilt trip them by implying the friend she had to stay the night with (Kay) had “asked for certain favours in return”, before we see a flashback of Kay innocently asking her to pass him a tea towel in the kitchen.
5. It Deals with Important Themes Too
Some of these take you by surprise, like the heartwarming way Kay deals with his crises of faith throughout the series, and a visit to a care home exhibits some of the dark humour staff use to cope when their residents are so close to death.
The more obvious issue Black Ops tackles – given its subject matter – is institutional racism in the police, and the everyday microaggressions people of colour continue to endure.
At times, these go almost unremarked, like subtle eyebrow raises from patrons when Dom and Kay visit a gentleman’s club, and when their police colleague (Kerry Howard) refuses them entry to a staff-only area of the precinct, until Dom points to a poster on the wall with her face on it, proudly advertising diversity in the police.
Racism is also highlighted more overtly and comedically, as in a running joke about police sketches looking more like famous black celebrities than the suspects they’re supposed to represent.
Highlighting racism this smartly is impressive – but making it funny as well takes it to the next level.
6. It’s Seriously Well Made
Black Ops is clearly a labour of love – there are endless tiny details and clever touches that give the show a richly textured feel, from Dom and Kay’s extensive wardrobe of novelty pyjamas to the comedy being enhanced by so many small gestures and facial expressions that you might miss many of them the first time around. The good news is Black Ops is well worth rewatching.
7. It’s Full of Incredible Twists
From the first episode (which ends with a stakes-raising twist you won’t see coming), it’s impossible to predict where Dom and Kay will end up next, giving Black Ops a gorgeously fresh, original feel with never a dull moment.
The show twists, turns, winds and races to a dramatic yet hugely satisfying and still funny conclusion, leaving room for a second series, which it thoroughly deserves.
Black Ops airs on BBC One on Fridays at 9.30pm – the box-set is also available to stream now on BBC iPlayer.