Netflix’s Criminal (U.K.) Review
With the streaming wars about to come to a head and Netflix about to lose a good chunk of content, the need for Netflix to develop strong original content couldn’t be any greater. So, what better original content for Netflix to create than their own crime procedural, like Law and Order or Criminal Minds, right? Well, that’s clearly what they’re going for with their new series Criminal, however, they go for a more unique angle than most other crime shows. Rather than just focus on one team, Criminal focuses on teams of interrogators from four different countries – United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and France. So, for the next four weeks I’ll be covering each section of Criminal – starting with the U.K.
Overall, the show follows a department of detectives that race against the clock in order to divulge information from suspects in order to solve horrifying crimes. With each case bringing on a new set of challenges, the detectives are constantly in a cat and mouse game that they have to win – even if it means their jobs.
Personally, what I love so much about Criminal is how it’s more of an elongated mental game between detectives and withholding suspects rather than a more action-oriented show. For the entirety of each episode, viewers will be confined to the interrogation room as the point of view shifts between those in the middle of a battle of wits in one room and onlooks just behind a one-way mirror. On paper, just watching people talk back and forth for forty minutes might sound like a bit of a drag – especially with viewers only seeing this one location. However, Criminal doesn’t come unprepared and with sharp dialogue, stellar performances, and great shot variety, it’s a crime show that effortlessly sucks viewers into its cat and mouse games.
With each twist and new piece of information that comes out of each interrogation, I constantly found myself hanging off of every word. As each conversation runs its course, there’s not only information about the case that slowly comes to life, but also details and information about the group of interrogators/detectives. Without ever cutting to the crimes they are investigating to or really anything outside of their office, Criminal heavily relies on strong writing and performances in order to keep viewers invested into each episode. Thankfully, though, Criminal comes equipped with all of the strengths it needs to constantly engage viewers with every change in tone and new discovery. From the changing tone of the conversation in “Edgar” that constantly changes how viewers will view Edgar’s (David Tennant) innocence to the new developments that come from Stacey (Hayley Atwell) as her abrasive personality is slowly stripped away, Criminal finds ways to hook viewers through strong dialogue.
However, what would this dialogue be without strong performances and characters to back them up, right? In terms of the investigators, the group is comprised of its leader Hobbs (Katherine Kelly), Tony (Lee Ingleby), Hugo (Mark Stanley), Vanessa (Rochenda Sandall), Ottager (Nicholas Pinnock), and new recruit Kyle Petit (Shubham Saraf). Admittedly, the series, at this point, doesn’t necessarily explore the characters to great depth or even the science behind their interrogation methods like other shows would – but it never takes away from anything. Criminal displays its character relationships and methods much more subtly and there’re plenty of moments where viewers get some insight to these characters. With some hints that Ottager’s recent promotion rubbing people the wrong way, Hobbs having some reservations about Hugo being a new addition to the team, and Tony having some suspicions to what Kyle is actually there for – viewers do come away with some impression of the group past the more stereotypical roles they play.
The performances throughout the series also complement the excellent dialogue and help create the riveting mental battle throughout each episode. Ingleby makes “Edgar” an enjoyable thrill ride down to the last second through his final questioning to Edgar, Kelly gives Hobbs a strong presence throughout the entire series and is especially great in “Stacey,” and Stanley shows Hugo’s determined personality as his issues come to life. There’re also some strong guest performances from Tennant and Atwell in their respective episode. Criminal doesn’t try to reveal all of its tricks with its characters or hold its viewers hand and it’s one of the things that I respect about it. It also shares some arcs that would be interesting to see go further with a second season.
Criminal also makes good use of having a lot of varied shots and sound aesthetics to create more suspense and make the series’ single environment more interesting to watch. Camera shots and angles rarely duplicate throughout each episode so conversations and perspectives can keep the environment feeling fresh. This variety allows for the singular location to never seem boring and allows for the shifts between the interview room and detective just looking on next door. There’s also some nice framing of perspectives and conversations through hidden cameras and the reflection of the one-way mirror Not to mention, the series never overuses its score to build suspense and utilizes the ticking of a clock to ramp up the tension and so that time is of the essence.
Netflix’s Criminal is a mental cat and mouse game that can’t be missed and gives viewers an original crime procedural that’s breaks the conventional formula. It’s subtly thrilling through stellar dialogue and standout performances and it’s such a sweetly quick watch that you’ll only be wanting more. As I get ready to delve into the other forms of the series, I can only hope that the rest of the world can be as entertainingly great as the U.K.