Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Criminal Record, on Apple TV+

Apparently, London already defunded their police, because a senior detective like DCI Daniel Hegerty must moonlight as a high-end Uber driver. It isn’t just Hegerty. According to series star Peter Capaldi, his opening driving scene was based on his real-life experiences getting chauffeured by London officers working second jobs. However, viewers should not expect much sympathy for Hegerty in writer-creator Paul Rutland’s 8-episode Criminal Record, which premieres today on Apple TV+.

Back at the Met, Hegrty is a crafty old fox, who does not suffer fools gladly. Not surprisingly, he resents it when DS June Lenker starts asking questions about a decade-old case. The catalyst is a 911 (equivalent) call from anonymous battered woman in fear for her life. Apparently, London still has public phone booths, so be sure to take a selfie next time you visit.

She would not give her name, but the mystery woman tells the operator her abusive lover threatened to kill her, like he has before. According to her, he claims an innocent man is currently doing twenty-four-years in a certain prison for the murder he committed. After a little research, Lenker determines that must be Errol Matthis, but Hegerty does not take kindly to her questions. In fact, he starts making life very difficult for Lenker.

Yet, unbeknownst to Lenker, Hegerty has taken an active interest Matthis’s estranged step-son, Patrick Burrowes, who, unbeknownst to Hegerty, has started dating the Inspector’s drug-abusing daughter. Eventually, viewers get a fuller appreciation of the pressures Hegerty deals with, both in the present day and during the initial investigation. However, Rutland clearly invites and expects viewers to identify with Team Lenker in the cops’ increasingly personal grudge match.

Despite its in-your-face biases,
Criminal Record has some decent police procedural material. However, eight episodes are grossly excessive for the story Rutland is trying to tell. The padding is conspicuous, which means the pacing necessarily suffers. Frankly, Criminal Record probably would have been more successful as a two-hour feature.

Of course, Capaldi is compulsively watchable strutting and snarling his way through the series as Hegerty. He might be far less verbose than his signature roles, but he brings a similarly intense energy. Likewise, Cush Jumbo is nobody’s pushover playing Lenker. When they go toe-to-toe, which happens often, it is always entertaining television.

Unfortunately, the rest of the writing is either obvious, on-the-nose manufactured drama or didactic finger-wagging. The seventh installment, the traditional flashback episode, appears to suddenly introduce ambiguity into this morality tale, but Rutland almost immediately pulls it back, once the narrative returns to the present. Yet, that kind of subtlety is exactly what the series desperately needed more of. It would have been much more interesting if Rutland gave significant justifications for both cops’ actions, leaving viewers to argue among themselves, but
Criminal Record is entirely one-sided.

There are several strong performances in
Criminal Record and the direction (by either Jim Loach or Shaun James Grant) is often quite slick. However, the narrative is quite familiar by now, repurposing elements from all sorts of previous “wrongful conviction” dramas. Only recommended for ardent Capaldi fans, Criminal Record starts streaming today (1/10) on Apple TV+.