The Netflix original crime drama returns to the streaming platform for its second season, delivering more thought-provoking narratives and top-brass performances from some of Britain’s best acting talents. Here’s our review.
Following the same format from the first season, Criminal continues to bring brave and provocative storytelling to the forefront of each stand-alone episode (which has been expanded to four this time round).
This season explores interesting topics such as murder, sexual assault allegations and online vigilante groups. However, the final episode does something different by bringing in an already convicted murderer (Kunal Nayyar), rather than a suspect, who wishes to cut a deal with the group of detectives.
Covering such mature topics speaks volumes about the strength of the writing team, led by George Kay. Audience members may find themselves sympathising with the suspects when the narrative itself may not present them in a particularly desirable manner.
On the other hand, attempts at eliciting empathy toward certain characters may feel hollow. Ultimately, it is up to individual viewers to decide how they feel toward certain characters and outcomes based on the subject matters each episode primarily deals with.
Season Two opens strong with a case about the disappearance of a student linked to the wife (Sophie Okonedo) of a convicted murderer. The third episode focuses on Sharon Horgan playing a cocky online vigilante who aims to entrap sex offenders by posing as a teenage girl in online chatrooms.
However, the strongest episode of the season is the second, which places Game of Thrones alum Kit Harington in the titular role of Alex, a pompous estate agent who has been accused by his female colleague of sexual assault. Harington delivers an intense performance as a dislikeable city professional, in a story that ultimately may divide viewers’ opinions based on the outcome and the subject matter.
Whilst the episode itself may start off strong with a brilliantly delivered opening monologue from Harington, the accusations placed against his character and how the male writers of the show choose to explore them could be best described as morally murky waters.
Such has already prompted outlets like Digital Spy to call out the show’s misrepresentation of sexual assault.
Perhaps Criminal’s stellar guest performances can also, unfortunately, point out its weaknesses too. The core cast of investigative detectives still have little to offer after two seasons. Though some are more likeable than others, such as Detective Vanessa Warren (Rochenda Sandall), others come across as irritating or just dull.
Whilst efforts are made to humanise them and develop their interpersonal relationships, these feel rather redundant when the main focus is always the suspect.
Criminal does however continue to bring intuitive and gorgeous cinematography to each of its stories. Whilst the show is still bound to the single floor of the police station, including interrogation and viewing rooms, these environments work effectively. A brown-walled, windowless room fails to be boring when the events occurring within it are so captivating.
Therefore, Criminal UK continues to showcase expertly constructed crime drama in its second season, now with a little more confidence to approach more divisive topics that are likely to split opinions and feelings.
And though this show may be short-form with still only a total of seven episodes, Netflix also carries the series’ foreign counterparts from France, Germany and Spain.
Criminal UK Season Two is now streaming on Netflix.
This review was originally published 9/27/20