Criminal takes Netflix viewers into the interrogation room, but despite top-notch talent like David Tennant, the series doesn’t reach its full potential.
Netflix’s newest drama Criminal has a great concept and some A-list talent—which makes it frustrating that the series isn’t arresting television. The tease is that the show takes place within the interview room, with each episode being a different interrogation. Furthermore, each set of three episodes takes place within a different country.
It all sounds brilliant, especially when you hear names like David Tennant and Hayley Atwell are attached, but it stumbles in the execution.
SPOILER ALERT: The remainder of this review contains minor spoilers for the United Kingdom episodes of Criminal.
For one, Criminal doesn’t actually confine itself to the interrogation room. The UK episodes pull away often—breaking focus and suspense to show other detectives watching the interview and giving their feedback.
It’s jarring, interrupting what’s essentially a one-room play. Interrogation scenes are some of the best crime drama moments when they’re written right, and they allow the best actors to shine since there’s nowhere to run and no other distractions. It’s all about the performers and how they play off one another.
The performers in Criminal are great. David Tennant stars in the first episode as Edgar, a doctor who’s been accused of raping and murdering his stepdaughter. Episode two features an almost unrecognizable Hayley Atwell playing Stacey, who might have poisoned her brother-in-law, or is she covering for someone else?
These are excellent actors, and each episode really rests on their shoulders as they play a back-and-forth game with the detectives. Audiences get to watch them reveal bits and pieces of their characters throughout the episode, and they get viewers trying to figure them out all the way to the end. Will they confess? Are they guilty?
That’s what makes Criminal‘s flaws so frustrating. If it was as tightly focused a show as it seemed to be, it would be one of the best crime dramas available.
But the detectives are nowhere near as interesting as the people they’re interrogating. The actors don’t have the same presence as the likes of Tennant and Atwell, and their characters are not any different than the ones you’ve seen in a dozen other crime dramas. If Criminal has to show them watching along, it could have used that as a platform for debate or discussion. It does neither.
On top of that, the UK edition throws in a useless subplot about one detective’s romantic feelings toward his colleague. The audience doesn’t care about his character, let alone whether or not he asks her out on a date—and when you get to the final episode, the answer to that makes it feel even more like a waste of time.
Maybe the writers felt they needed to include a romantic story to attract viewers. Maybe they weren’t certain they could do an entire series within the four walls of an interrogation room. But it’s a shame, because if they had done that with the talent they had, it would have been perfect.
Criminal‘s interrogations are riveting, and well worth watching; it’s everything else that gets in the way. Especially coming not long after the release of the sleeper hit Unbelievable, the show leaves the viewer wanting more, and not in a good way. When it’s focused, it’s awesome, but when it pulls away from its core premise it’s just another cop show.
Criminal season 1 is streaming on Netflix now.