One of the most interesting and compelling aspects of Babylon is the also-impossible job that the Public Relations department has in trying to gain the public’s trust. Liz, who, according to her rival, is “the best thing that’s happened to London since the plague,” seems to be perpetually on the brink of a breakdown, especially as her personal life spirals alongside her work life. It’s both funny and gross to watch the PR department as they bicker over word use (at one point, after debating “riot” vs. “disturbance,” they eventually land on “severe disturbance”). In the first episode, when this riot and/or disturbance breaks out, there is a glorious juxtaposition between what’s actually happening — shots of police in full riot gear closing in on the boys at the Youth Offenders Institution — and the “peaceful” resolution that the news correspondents are reporting on.
When Babylon really picks up is also when it becomes a tough sell. Midway through the series, there’s a plot involving the shooting of a black teenager — which is, again, impossible to watch without thinking of the very real police killings of black men and boys in America that have dominated the news lately. It’s a tricky storyline to handle, even if it weren’t so unfortunately timed, and Babylon tries to balance the harrowing event with twisted humor, particularly within the PR department.
Without getting into too much detail, there’s a scene in which Liz and a coworker try to find any sort of way to spin the killing without smearing the teen’s name. One suggestion is to focus on the fact that one of the officers involved was black. “I’m not actually 100 percent sure he is black,” Liz says, prompting her coworker to say that the officer is mixed, and “mixed race is black, isn’t it?” It’s a funny exchange during a decidedly not-funny series of events, though the laughter it elicits is more uncomfortable than anything else — which is perhaps true of the entire series.