Netflix's Criminal Season 1 Review
Does Netflix's Criminal have the interrogation chops to be more than just a multi-national gimmick?Whilst it's unprecedented to release four TV series at the same time, from four different countries (joint-funded), all boasting the same connective tissue and format (largely the style, score and single distinctive - almost futuristic - interrogation room setting) but different casts and cases, and languages, Criminal needs more than just an international hook, and threatens to lose audiences with its UK salvo - arguably the weakest of the 'universe'.
The premise is simple, and identical across borders, with Criminal: UK, Criminal: Spain, Criminal: France and Criminal: Germany all purportedly their own different show, but all revolving around an interrogation room (and the room behind the one-way mirror, and corridor outside) where a trio of interviews take place in each country. Set apart from one another in crime and time (months elapse to take us to Christmas for the second UK one), the characters are still largely the same, and they have but three episodes apiece to crack the disparate cases.
Criminal needs more than just an international hook, and threatens to lose audiences with its UK salvo - arguably the weakest of the 'universe'In the UK, a group of detectives (including Lee Ingleby, Katherine Kelly and Nicholas Pinnock) try to crack a trio of tough suspects - David Tennant's silent witness, suspected of murdering the 14 year old girl he may have been in a relationship with; Hayley Atwell's rough-around-the-edges suspect who may have been involved in the poisoning of her sister's abusive husband; and Youssef Kerkour's van driver, who is under pressure to give up the location of his van as it may contain some teenage girls who are being trafficked, and who are about to die.
In Spain, Emma Suarez (fabulous in the underrated The Red Squirrel) leads the investigative team trying to crack a middle-aged murder suspect who maintains that she has nothing but one night stands on her mind, a sibling suspected in the suspicious death of her sister, and a couple whose connection to one of the other investigators creates conflict in the team.
In Germany, Sylvester Groth (the memorable torturer in Ritchie's The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) tries to get to the bottom of a decades-old corpse found buried under the foundations of a businessman's (Peter Kurth) empire, looks into an increasingly complex domestic violence case, and tries to get the truth about where the bodies are buried from a serial killer's partner (Nina Hoss - regular in Homeland).
And in France, Margot Bancilhon and Laurent Lucas (Les Revenants - The Returned) interrogate a woman (Sara Giraudeau) who may have lied about being a victim in a terrorist attack, investigate a 'fall' at a construction site, and look into a hate crime.
Best advice: start with Germany or France. Each region has its strengths but the UK (and to a certain extent Spain) affords a fairly weak opening chapter, despite the star power of Tennant. It's the interrogators that come off the worst, far too smug for the duration, with almost nothing happening until an eleventh-hour Perry Mason moment suddenly pushes the tension into overdrive. Convoluted, and implausible, it's not a great start. Spain's first chapter is, conversely, merely a little too eclectic for its own good, whereas France and particularly Germany, go for strong morality tales cleverly set against a rich, real historical backdrop.
There's not a lot that you can do with 43 minutes of runtime, but whilst the UK has given up and gone straight procedural (its second episode, with Captain America's Hayley Atwell on fantastic form, is considerably better, but still weakened by the investigators who take an even more implausible turn in the third) the other regions appear more prepared to push it to the max, with Germany crafting a rich backdrop of East/West divide in Berlin for its cold case opener, and France making you question how hard you go against a potential survivor from the horrific Bataclan attack. Spain goes completely left field with its quirky investigation and utterly maverick detectives (let's just sign the warrant ourselves) but that kind of gives it its own flavour, but the end result of all of this is that the UK feels like it's gone for straight Law & Order: UK in its stiff delivery, whilst the others are prepared to go for Homicide: Life on the Streets and actually get you invested in these interrogation room cases, and - in turn - the colourful detectives that live in them.
Maybe it's a gimmick, but it's worked out well for those who fancy trying a different flavour - try a little Germany or France to see what you think of those better cases
In Dolby Vision 4K with Dolby Atmos, Criminal certainly looks and sounds the part (even if the set looks similar to one used on The I-Land, making you wonder whether this new acquisition is now the go-to hub for as many Netflix productions as possible), and the commonality of identical sets - right down to that familiar stairwell in the corridor - and even identical score, actually makes this a strangely smooth watch even if you hop across countries between episodes, rather than just watch three in a row for each country. Maybe it's a gimmick, but in this case, it's worked out well for those who fancy trying a different flavour for their cuisine - don't give up just because of the weaker Criminal: UK hors d'oeuvres, try a little Germany or France for your main, to see what you think of those better cases.
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