Netflix's Criminal is, according to opinion, a great, courageous experiment or four smaller experiments. A police case in which each episode takes place only in an interview room and its immediate surroundings is Bottle Episode: The Series – with only an international component that makes the concept more courageous and more formal at the same time.
Technically, the show is four shows featuring a shared creative DNA listed separately in the Netflix interface: Criminal: United Kingdom Criminal: France Criminal: Germany and Criminal: Spain . George Kay and Jim Field Smith made all versions, and all were filmed in the same studio in Madrid ̵
Surveys, if well dramatized, can be among the most effective tools available to a police show. But they are very hard to bear. Even the Best Interviewing Show of All, NBC's Classics from the Nineties Homicide: Life on the Street only tried one episode-long interrogation with Emmy winner "Three Men and Adena." Criminal not only does this in all its consequences, but also tries it in several countries. The format means we meet all the characters in and around this interview room, often after spending hours there. Trying to make (or avoid) a confession.
That the episodes are largely independent and contain known types of crime helps. For example, the British edition begins with David Tennant playing a doctor accused of sexually abusing and then murdering his 14-year-old stepdaughter. Nothing Law & Order: SVU has done that dozens of times before. The other issues are sometimes regionally specific – the German version makes its debut with a case in which two men grew up on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall, while the French premiere during an Eagles of Paris in 2015 is associated with the terrorist attack Death Metal Concert – but the motifs and emotions shown are obvious enough that the show can drive the audience into the depths of each case. Whether the police are successful or not, the stories are structured in such a way that the suspects of the Very Special Guest like Tennant and (as a working-class woman suspected of poisoning her lover) give Hayley Atwell a satisfactory one before the hour Monologue can hold. You do not have to know much to make something out of it.
But the rigidity of the format and the brevity of each three-episode season create stumbling blocks. "Three Men and Adena" worked as well as it was because it was the culmination of a case in which Homicide had already recorded several episodes of chronicling, as well as the effect it had on the detectives who worked on it. Criminal has no place to create such foundations, and must try to achieve the same results through short talk among the policemen on the other side of the two-way mirror. The actors who play the detectives are good (*), but they have to play broad, barely outlined types: the drunks, the hotheads, the unchecked leaders, and so on. There are tricks in serialization – romantic tensions between the British and the Spanish Policemen, a study of the internal affairs of German unity – but not enough time to play a role, either within episodes or in these short seasons. The interrogations themselves largely function as one-acters, as the suspects are extensively characterized and built up. But the regulars would be almost better off than total ciphers in this abbreviated lineup, policemen who are just as much a mystery to us as the murderers who want very little to confess.
(*) And some may be known from other international series, such as Nicholas Pinnock of Counterpart as a British detective and Sylvester Groth of Germany 83/86 as chief of the German team.
Although the individual cases are very different, anyone trying to view multiple versions will find more similarities than just the decor, as most premiere episodes show the surprising arrival of a new / old member of the team , Apart from the cultural signifiers, almost all episodes from one country could be assigned to another country with a few minor changes. Try the series – which has different directors from country to country (Oliver Hirschbiegel of Downfall controls the German episodes, for example), to point out that politics is basically the same, no matter where it is practiced ? Or is homogeneity less about a cultural statement than a smart business decision?
The structural and production details behind Criminal do not evoke Homicide but NBC's other classic cop from the Nineties drama: The Original Law & Order . The Cops / Lawyers format of this series was invented by Dick Wolf as a sales technique: a way to sell the show to Syndication in a half-hour format at a time when no one was buying repetitions of hours-long shows. Netflix is a global player that often thinks about how its series work in different markets. With Criminal several of these markets can be targeted simultaneously, and it may happen that the target groups overlap with each other. Law & Order evolved from its cynical beginnings to a great show, partly because it quickly found out how to change its famous format, reverse it and sometimes completely destroy it. Can some or all of these criminals do that? It would be helpful if we had to spend more time in each locale next time. However, this is not a bad start.
All four versions of Criminal will debut on September 20 on Netflix. I saw all three episodes of the British version and watched each of the other three iterations.