Criminal UK Season 2 Review: Engaging conversations powered by top-notch performances
Moving past the moral dilemmas while watching Criminal, the series acts as a showreel of sorts for the principal characters
What is flashy about a police procedural that is set in a single room with a one-way mirror partition? What is showy about a police procedural that is all dialogues, and absolutely zero on-ground action? What is exciting about a police procedural that has cops we know nothing about? Despite such questions, Criminal came out unscathed in Season 1 and the show manages to be a bit more impressive this time around.
Cast: Katherine Kelly, Lee Ingleby, Kit Harrington, Kunal Nayyar
Director: Jim Field Smith
Streaming on: Netflix
Written by George Kay and directed by Jim Field Smith, Criminal is a window into the verbal tussle between hard-boiled investigators and immovable suspects, as one tries to break the other’s resilience. While these conversations are dripping with tension, and even the most laidback exchange of words has a strong zing to it, the predictability of the format proves to be a distraction. We know that the investigators will crack the case. We know that, come what may, the truth will eventually triumph, and the law will take its rightful course. Even certain detours in the episodes peppered with a few interesting twists don’t amount to much because the end result is the same. It might seem odd that the “good guys always win” formula is being pointed out as a sore point, but an investigative thriller has to be a sine wave of sorts, with the required ups and downs, to hold our interest.
However, this is not to say that Criminal isn’t intriguing. Just as each case makes the investigators — Natalie Hobbs (Katherine Kelly), Tony Myerscough (Lee Ingleby), Hugo Duffy (Mark Stanley), and Vanessa Warren (Rochenda Sandall) — question their own sense of morality and ethics, we too are forced to do the same. When an influential person, a known misogynist, is accused of rape, and that person believes he is falsely accused, whom do you believe? When a narrative boils down to a 'he said, she said', who do you side with? When you get evidence that supports the accused's innocence, do you still side with the accuser? While the questions about cancel culture and trolls are interesting, the timing could have been more circumspect. But such questions don’t stop coming in the four cases explored this season, leaving us with a lot to ponder. If one episode talks about pedophilia and vigilantism, another talks about crimes of passion, and yet another deals with a cold-blooded killer.
Moving past the moral dilemmas while watching Criminal, and having conflicting opinions about the set-up as a whole, the series primarily acts as a showreel of sorts for the principal characters. Kit Harrington as Alex, the person accused of rape, brings out a performance that almost makes us forget that he was Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. Similarly, Kunal Nayyar, who played the genial and goofy Rajesh Koothrapalli in The Big Bang Theory, turns up as the brooding and scary Sandeep Singh. It shows the acting calibre of such actors, who are often typecast due to appearing in certain iconic roles.
The interpersonal relationships between the investigators and their character arcs that were briefly explored in Season 1 are given even less time this season. While this aloofness doesn’t help in our investment with the proceedings, what helps in Criminal not become just an exercise in solid performances, are the questions it poses to a discerning audience.
That is why, despite it not exactly being the most flashy, showy or exciting police procedural out there, Criminal still holds our interest. It makes us think a lot... about the characters, and more importantly, about us.