Imagine seeing the same play, with slight variations, twelve times in a row. Netflix’ high-concept interrogation room drama Criminal is comparable to that. Using the exact same set and some of the same narrative limitations, Criminal puts the viewer in the interrogation room in four different countries (UK, France, Germany, Spain) as police detectives try and wrangle a confession out of a suspect. Each country has 3 episodes, featuring the same cops but different criminals.
An Interesting Experiment
Created by George Kay (Killing Eve) and Jim Field Smith (The Wrong Mans), Criminal is an interesting experiment in how different writers and directors will use the same elements to make different versions of a show. The premise is that in each country, they must use the same set, which is an interrogation room, an observation room and a hallway ONLY, and the clock is ticking on the interrogation, because if they can’t get enough out of the suspect to bring charges, legally they can’t hold him or her. While the crimes change from episode to episode, the series builds on the relationships between the cops. In all countries, an interloper, whether a junior investigator or someone from the DA’s office, is assigned to the be the lead in the cases, causing an experienced detective to be disgruntled.
The creators of Criminal secured an eye-popping cast for the suspects in each series. David Tennant! Haley Atwell! And if you watch foreign language crime drama, you will recognize several actors in each of the Spain, France and Germany series. How did they get this cast? Well, according to George Kay, “We’ve been able to get a good cast across all four of the countries because, bluntly, it’s a chance to act in front of a global audience, close-up for 40 minutes, and that’s quite a rare thing.” It is, indeed. Usually TV actors get to perform a few minutes of a scene at a time. Also, Criminal was shot in chronological order, so emotions can naturally build, much like in the theatre. Also, it was relatively little effort-the show was shot in the Netflix facility in Madrid, with no location moves, no weather, and a short schedule.
Because the format is so limited, Criminal is not really bingeable. It can get repetitive, predictable and even a little boring if you try to watch all of them in one sitting. And not all episodes (or actors) are equal. (See this article from TV Guide on the ranking). I watched at least one from every country, and found that the I liked the German ones the best. They had a twist on the relationship between cops that the other shows did not. The thing is, the series feels hollow because we are so used to watching the arc of characters develop over hours of TV. To try to create the chemistry of a long term cast in three 40-minute episodes is almost impossible. One thing I did like is that some of the crimes were related to true events, like the mass shooting at the Bataclan nightclub in Paris, or the fall of the Berlin wall. And of course it’s interesting to see how each country approaches the interrogation scene, but once that novelty wears off, you will be looking for something else to watch.
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