Police interrogation is not an uncommon trope of our daily telly, whether its Criminal Minds or Life On Mars, but since Criminal: UK hit Netflix in 2019 none have done it with such tension, flair, and attention to detail. Season one aired with a sledgehammer opener: national treasure David Tennant as a father under charge of the sexual assault and murder of his own daughter. But once viewers grabbed onto that star power, they realised there’s more to this short interrogation series than expected. It had character, charm, and mountains of gripping moments.
Season two was released this week, and is no different in terms of hitting those points. However, the star power is delivered differently. Now we open with a grieving wife (Sophie Okonedo) on a procedural check-up following the arrest of her husband for murder. It’s a lazy Sunday, and most of our favourite characters aren’t even in. But once this by-the-numbers chat twists the case on its head, everyone rushes in to solve the case. Instead of grabbing my unknowing eyes with Tennant, this pilot leaks in the elements I loved about the show piece-by-piece, enveloping me in what makes these stories so fun to watch.
And then? Maybe a bit of star power. Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington storms into episode two, who seems to be this season’s David Tennant flagship on marketing. Playing a businessman accused of rape, Harrington along with the direction of Jim Field Smith creates a perfect vision of “arsehole misogyny”. Not in most of his words, but mostly in the way he acts and looks around and to the women in the room. But as doubt is cast on his guilt, I was worried the story was ending up criticizing sexual assault allegations, and the honesty of those women. While it does show the minority of women committing these crimes, it opens a wider conversation about criminal cases that aren’t tied up in a bow, and the unmendable fallout that occurs after. Not exactly lending itself to the piles of rapists that get away with these cases without such thorough and fanciful interrogation, but still examining the unsatisfying mess that justice systems end up with.
From that point on, the series loses some of the grip its previous had. Episode three hosts a vigilante mother going after child sex offenders online, and ending up causing more pain than justice. The performance of Katherine Kelly pulls up an episode with less drama and tension, and relies more on reveals and twists in its final act. I found myself wondering where the edge-of-seat tension from season one went, with the frantic search for evidence under the ticking clock.
As it turns out, the entirety of season two felt like a warm-up for its finale episode. An episode that makes Kit Harrington’s second episode feel like a red herring for the true star power: Big Bang Theory’s Kunal Nayyar. Playing a convicted killer offering up information, Nayyar completely owns the screen in regards to power, and intelligence. Combined with brilliant blocking from Jim Field Smith’s direction, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Nayyar’s every move as the character of Sandeep sits quietly, without a solicitor. After the episode flips into a different direction, our ticking clock is brought back into play. Behind the two-way glass, the detectives suddenly sit up in their chairs, fidgeting. As do I. It combines all the elements that make the show truly excellent, with twists, performances, and power changes between suspect and detective.
But behind all these new stories are the foundations that make a show about people talking in a room far from dull. The set of Criminal: UK is incredible, with the lighting and production design of their office, interrogation room and hallways having a memorable and attractive blueprint that still works, but perhaps isn’t experimented with enough this season.
Rochenda Sandall gives a great performance in the first episode as the talented but unambitious detective, as does Katherine Kelly all season as our commanding ‘guv’. But I admit I am still completely charmed by the underrated Lee Ingleby as Tony, who still holds up as the kind but ingenious detective who can’t stop cleaning his glasses. Following his earlier role in Line of Duty, I think it’s about time Ingleby gets a larger lead in another project.
The hallmarks of Criminal: UK season two are all here. There are twists, clever investigations, cinematography that uses the space masterfully, and award-deserving performances. It does add an extra episode from the first series, which on one hand gives us more of the content we crave, but loses the momentum of the previous. It may not have the same tight grip, but the script from George Kay combined with Jim Field Smith’s eye still wins out overall as what feels like a magic trick getting pulled off again.
Criminal: UK season two is out for UK audiences on Netflix.
Featured image credit: Netflix UK