What I thought about: Criminal (UK) (Season 2)

I couldn’t wait to get started on the second season of this gripping police interview drama. It’s a testament to the quality of acting in this show that I remained captivated for the entire runtime despite all the action taking place between a few actors in a small room.

It’s not all finger-wagging, I promise.

What’s it about?
A special unit of the police (we assume in London), practice unorthodox interview techniques in order to tease out a confession or some other crucial information from their subjects. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the CIA, there’s no waterboarding, it’s purely psychological. Things like padding a medical examiner’s report with blank paper and slamming it down on the table to make it seem important. Playing good cop bad cop. Selectively choosing who asks what question. These all add up to mount pressure on the subject and get them to give in.

This season includes Kit Harrington (accused of rape) and Kunal Nayyar (convicted but suspected of a second murder) among a pair of slightly lesser-known actors for a total of four episodes, one more than last time.

What do I like about it?
The acting is incredible, as indeed its has to be. Armed with viewer’s foresight (for we know that something is going to happen due to the nature of the show), you can really appreciate the skilful writing and acting. The team pick up on a fairly obvious moment in episode one, where the interviewee Julia (not a suspect!) launches into a mini tirade and yells out about facts that only the killer would know. But there was something much more subtle earlier on. She asks if her husband (convicted murderer, and suspect of a second murder) had been charged for the it. “Not yet”, comes Detective Constable Vanessa Warren’s reply. Julia lets out a deep sigh and puts her hands to her face. “When will it end?” she says, ostensibly referring to the misery of being married to a murderer.

Now, why would she do that? If she was innocent, I’d argue the response would be more like ‘oh’, or the question wouldn’t even be asked. What she’s doing is checking in on the investigation into the second murder, to see if she’s gotten away with it. When she learns he hasn’t been charged, it means she’s still at a degree of risk. The fact that this is acted out, but is never referred to again for the rest of the episode, demonstrates the show’s the attention to detail. Detail that’s necessary to make such a slow burning, single-room drama so gripping.

What do I not like about it?
Why are the police staff so limp outside the interview room? Inside, they are powerful and cunning, and have a way with words that makes even the most hardened criminal slowly crumble. But outside it – in the corridors of the station – they buy drinks from vending machines and throw little paper balls into tiny bins, letting out a depressive sigh when they inevitably miss. I’m not sure I get what the writers are going for here.

Also, as a lawyer myself, I can’t help but question the way the solicitors – who are sometimes also present in the room – just sit back and let the police’s line of questioning happen. They do speak up at times (they’re not totally silent!) but you just know that if this were real the solicitor would be reading out a statement and advising their client to reply with ‘no comment’.

Worth a watch?
You have to appreciate that it is literally just people talking in a room. Sit through absolutely any episode in the first or second season – they’re all good – and if you liked it, carry on. If you didn’t, it’s probably not for you.

By the way…

  • The first season launched simultaneously with editions in France, Germany, and Spain, all with their own plots and local actors…
  • …But the UK show was the only one to be renewed for a second season.

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What I thought about: Defending Jacob

Unusually dark when you consider Apple’s typically family friendly orientation, this slow-burn thriller is a different take on a murder mystery story. I’m just not convinced it’s a worthwhile one.

That moment when you have to have ‘the talk’ with your teenage son. No, not that one…

What’s it about?
Ben Rifkin, a teenager, is found murdered in the woods on his way to school. Leonard Patz, a registered sex offender living near the woods, is the obvious suspect. But as assistant district attorney Andy Barber struggles to get any hard evidence on him, another suspect crops up: his son, Jacob, who was in the same class as the victim and who also walks through the woods on the way to school. Before he knows it, police are swarming the family home and searching for the murder weapon. Convinced of his son’s innocence, and well and truly off the case, Andy fights to uncover the truth.

What follows is an oddly-paced unravelling of the story. Did Jacob do it? If so, why? How? We don’t find the answers to all of these questions.

What do I like about it?
It’s dark, and it’s not very violent. The slow pace is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s frustrating not watching something with the constant twists and turns we saw in something like The Stranger. On the other hand, smaller actions have more impact.

There’s a scene where Jacob’s mother Laurie goes shopping for groceries at the crack of dawn to avoid being spotted and harassed. She rounds the corner and bumps into the victim’s mother, Joan, who slowly approaches, zombie-like. “Joan…’ Laurie says, only to be cut off by Joan nastily spitting in her face before walking away. Both mothers were there to shop away from the gaze of strangers, either as the mother of a horrifically murdered son, or as the mother of the alleged murderer. If it was all action, I suppose we wouldn’t have thought anything of that scene.

What do I not like about it?
I can’t tell if the acting is terrible or really, really good. Jacob is a weird but plain kid. The way he looks at you is weird, he’s pretty quiet, and his mind is usually somewhere else. It gives off a creepy, sinister vibe. But at the same time, you can’t help but believe him when he says he’s innocent. So, maybe Jaeden Martell did exactly what the directors wanted him to do. Or maybe he’s a bad actor. I honestly can’t tell.

I also don’t like how many twists occur in the final two episodes. I think the pacing in murder mysteries is a tricky thing, and on this occasion they got it wrong, spending far too long setting the scene in the run up to the trial, and not enough on the last few pivotal moments.

Worth a watch?
Watch the trailer first and ask yourself if you have the patience to get through 6 hours of slow-burn before it all kicks off.

By the way…

  • Yes, that is Chris Evans of Captain America fame playing the father, Andy Barber.
  • Jacob’s actor starred in Knives Out as that little shit who’s always on his phone and WHO IS ALSO CALLED JACOB. I did not recognise him in this.

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What I thought about: The Stranger

An epic drama that will have you asking more questions at the end of every episode. Some people I’ve spoken to were underwhelmed, but I was gripped from the beginning.

If only you knew what they were looking at

What’s it about?
A mysterious woman approaches a married man at his kid’s football match and tells him a huge, personal, secret – that his wife lied about a pregnancy. I can’t say much more about the plot than that without spoiling large parts of the show beyond the first episode. Meanwhile, in a seemingly unrelated incident, the man’s eldest son is hiding a severed goat head in his bedroom. Yeah, bet you want to find out why, right?

What do I like about it?
This is a big money drama show. It was virtually guaranteed to impress me. There are twists and turns, shocking moments, sad moments, confusing moments, and ‘hurry up and load the next episode already’ moments.

The characters are mostly well portrayed and there are some very good cinematic shots. Again, I can’t really be specific as the plot is so tied up together that revealing one thing too early would ruin the otherwise gripping delivery.

What do I not like about it?
I think the pay off at the end, once everything is figured out, is a little weak. The journey is definitely better than the destination. The mystery, once you are rewarded with the little ‘aha’ moment, is not as deep as you might have first thought. And that’s a little disappointing.

Also, the main character has far too much spare time on his hands for me to sensibly believe he is a high-flying lawyer.

Worth a watch?
Go. Go now. What are you still doing reading this?

By the way…

  • This is the second show on Netflix written by Harlan Coben. The other is called Safe, which I have also watched. The style of these two shows is very similar, but Safe is not quite a good – probably because of the main character’s terrible British accent.

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