United Kingdom: Episode 1 – | Review Score – 4.5/5
United Kingdom: Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
United Kingdom: Episode 3 – | Review Score – 4/5
Spain: Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Spain: Episode 2 – | Review Score – 4/5
Spain: Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
France: Episode 1 – | Review Score – 4/5
France: Episode 2 – | Review Score – 4/5
France: Episode 3 – | Review Score – 4/5
Germany: Episode 1 – | Review Score – 4/5
Germany: Episode 2 – | Review Score – 4/5
Germany: Episode 3 – | Review Score – 4/5
12 Angry Men is one of my favourite films. Not because it’s a particularly exciting or action-packed thrill ride and certainly not because it has impressive special effects or clever camera tricks. It’s simply a very straight forward character analysis that stands the test of time and can just as easily be enjoyed today as it was when it first hit theaters back in 1957. In a way, Netflix’s experimental series Criminal takes this one-set idea and evolves it into something that feels organically new and different, despite sticking to the same set of rules found in the procedural genre through the 12 episodes available.
Right from the off, Criminal embraces its own unique set up on the main Netflix page. With four separate countries utilizing their own star-studded talent and their own cultural spin on this set-up, Criminal puts the acting and script work of each country in the spotlight, for better or worse. For the purposes of this review, we began with the United Kingdom episodes before working our way through the French, German and Spanish episodes. Each country has 3 episodes clocking in at around 40 minutes each and all of them use the same set, with different characters and stylistic ticks to differentiate each region.
On the surface, Criminal is very simple in its set-up. Different police detectives sit across from an alleged criminal or suspect and try to work their way through a verbal maze of tactics to try and get a confession or some shred of evidence to pin on whoever is to blame. Instead of an array of suspects or a “whodunnit” feel, Criminal instead puts the focus on the acting and dialogue to keep its episodes flowing. This is both the best and worst part of the show, as episodes dip and peak depending on who the main actors are and what material they’re given.
The first episode involving David Tennant is among those that really shine. As always Tennant plays his role to perfection, with the right precision and withdrawal while Carmen’s heartbreaking story about her sister erupts into an emotional pool of drama during the episode’s big climax. These moments really stand out and differentiate each episode but the simplistic nature of the series makes it one I don’t recommend binging in one sitting.
The simplicity of the series really shows its rigid design in doing this, as most episodes begin with exposition, disguised through character-building questions and a basic set-up of what’s happened to bring these suspects in. During the midway point of the episode, either the detectives themselves or the suspects throw a spanner in the works that acts as a dramatic anchor to the third act, where a big twist or reveal is divulged and the truth finally uncovered.
After five or six episodes this does start to become problematic although some of the theatrics and character drama away from the interview rooms does try to spice things up. Some of this feels organic while at other times it feels a little contrived given these subplots never really go anywhere. As an example, the third Spanish episode ends with Maria’s career thrown into question with little resolution.
Props to the technical team though because Criminal certainly tries to mix things up to prevent the show from falling into stagnation. Some of the camera tricks are incredibly well delivered, with a Godfather-esque zoom out in one of the episodes among the highlights. On top of this, the abundance of long shots and a decent musical score does well to keep the series hanging on a thin tightrope of suspense, preventing the show from ever falling into melodramatic waters.
It won’t be for everyone and arguably the United Kingdom episodes are the strongest, but there’s some really solid episodes across the board here worth exploring. Props to Netflix for producing something with such a simple premise and with a good execution too. The easy to binge nature actually works against the show though as the more episodes you watch, the more likely you’ll be to spot the rigid structure and the aforementioned upcoming twists. Still, despite all this Criminal is well worth checking out and a welcome addition to the crime genre. Let’s hope this one is renewed for a second season.