Criminal: UK is back with four new episodes and four new cases for viewers to try and crack before the timer is up. We have a wife whose husband is the prime suspect in a murder case, an arrogant business man accused of rape, a wannabe vigilante whose mission to criminalize suspected paedophiles goes wrong, and a convicted murderer wanting to reduce his sentence with a deal.
Criminal is a psychological drama series with different versions in four countries: France, Germany, Spain and the UK. It’s limited to a single setting within a police station and consists entirely of an interrogation being carried out by the same group of police officers. Each episode is stand alone story, featuring a new case and interviewee.
Each episode has only three rooms as a setting: the interrogation room, a viewing room obscured by a one way mirror, and the corridor outside. Meaning there is no action, no manhunt, no shootouts or chases. This is a show very limited in terms of visuals; it’s purely built around dialogue. And it just works so well as a concept.
But having a limited setting does not mean Criminal is not beautiful visually. Parting away from the dingy grey interrogation rooms we see so often in British crime dramas, Criminal is sleek and cool. It uses its fluorescently lit set to create a well-polished atmosphere and keep the viewer’s attention on the story, occasionally using the odd focus on a jiggling leg or a camera lens to create tension or express a shift in emotion when needed.
Detective Chief Inspector Natalie Hobbs (Katherine Kelly), Detective Inspector Tony Myerscough (Lee Ingleby) and Detective Constables Vanessa Warren (Rochenda Sandall), Kyle Petit (Shubham Saraf) and Hugo Duffy (Mark Stanley) each take it in turns at the table to crack their interviewees or watch the scene from the viewing room. Across the course of each episode, we find out more about each officer and about their strengths and weaknesses, how they approach an interviewee and what their neat little tricks are.
Criminal never falters in terms of cast, with each episode bringing in a neatly wrapped character, performed brilliantly by whoever is playing them. For this season, our star player was Kit Harrington in episode 2 “Alex,” playing a businessman whose ego is made abundantly clear from the get go. Far from his days as Jon Snow in the hit TV show Game of Thrones, Harrington succeeds in toying with the viewer’s emotions, from contempt to sympathy and back to contempt again – Alex certainly is not a one dimensional character. This episode paid off with a monologue that brings into light the impact rape accusations have on the accused before they have been found guilty.
The first episode “Julia” was probably the weakest. Yet still impressive with Sophie Okonedo’s performance as a wife providing witness details on a murder her husband is suspected of having committed, in a show which thrives on unpredictability and leaving the viewer guessing, I found it easy to guess the outcome of this episode.
Episode 3 “Danielle” told the story of a woman (Sharon Horgan) who has been arrested for improper communication online after she has been portraying herself as a 14-year-old girl to entrap potential predators. If she finds them to be guilty, she sends copies of all their explicit conversations to the respondent’s family, place of work and the police. Not only did this episode deliver great plot twists, but it also gave viewers a lesson into the rights and wrongs of vigilantism and the dire impact it can have if it goes wrong.
Season 2 of Criminal: UK finished on episode 4 “Sandeep” which featured Kunal Nayyar playing a businessman already serving time for murder of a potential business partner after she backed out of a major deal. The team have further questions for him about the disappearance of another girl; they believe he had something to do with her going missing too. But Sandeep is ready to make a deal in order to reduce his sentence in exchange for information, putting the team in the difficult position of trusting a convicted murderer. After many years of playing the loveable Raj in The Big Bang Theory, his chilling performance matched this much darker persona perfectly.
As tightly written as always, season 2 of Criminal: UK was just as good as the first. Each episode made for an enjoyable 40 minutes, unpacking one investigation at a time and always managing to keep the viewer hooked. The only thing this series needs is more character progression for the investigating officers and more information into their back stories.