Review by C.J. Bunce
Trainspotting writer Irvine Welsh’s television series Crime arrived in Scotland and the UK at the end of 2021 before coming to the U.S. via BritBox. Continuing the odd predilection of British writers to saturate the child abduction mystery trope, Crime reveals the flipside of Scotland policing to the small town version viewers saw in Shetland. The world is just as dark, but it’s far uglier in Edinburgh than the rural highlands if this series reflects any reality. It follows series lead Dougray Scott (Doctor Who, Arabian Nights, Ever After) as Detective Inspector Ray Lennox, the latest troubled, alcoholic, drug addict cop who isn’t a “bad cop” per se, but is a cop who is bad at being a cop, in the tradition of John Luther. Unfortunately Crime is not Luther, although its set-up is promising: a bustling Edinburgh police station that looks more like an American newspaper office hints that this may be a mystery like All the President’s Men or State of Play.
Furthering the All the President’s Men comparison is Jamie Sives (Guilt, Doctor Who, To the Ends of the Earth) as DI Dougie Gillman, a rumpled, cocky cop like Dustin Hoffman to Scott’s more professional, upright Robert Redford-esque sleuth. The hope all season long is that these two opposites decide to work together against a common foe, but it never comes together. A second season is heading to BritBox in 2023, so this still could happen.
After Lennox chases his tail, and returns to his addictive ways, for the first four episodes, the season villain only appears in the final two. That villain is John Simm (Life on Mars, Doctor Who, Grace), who is always more fun to watch as the series lead. As a villain he comes off as a Bond villain, always over the top, always a reminder of his better leading man performances. At the same time, Scot actress Laura Fraser (Traces, A Knight’s Tale, Doctor Who, The Missing) enters the picture as Lennox’s obligatory psychiatrist. Lennox’s life is over-sold as a personal disaster, but he’s really just another cop who cares about his job and the writer badly piles on drink and drug as if it’s the only solution. In this day and age this story is simply been done too much–it’s both old and boring. Lennox in many ways is the same character as Nicola Walker’s cop in Unforgotten, but the Scotland male edition. Walker did it better.
The season mystery is not compelling–clearly the series sees itself as a character study and reflection of the seedy side of urban Scotland and not an actual “British mystery.” Dougray Scott does a fine job as the angry, dissatisfied copy screaming out loud (but really only in his head) at his bosses, at his suspects, at his partner (DC’s Legends of Tomorrow’s Joanna Venderham in the unenviable position of playing the female #2 to the series lead). But how many times in six hours can we watch a guy, like with PTSD and other disorders, scream at a world in chaos and a life completely out of control?
Wild Bill’s Angela Griffin is a nice addition as Lennox’s girlfriend, who has a subplot battling sexual harassment at work. And Derek Riddell (Shetland, Fantastic Beasts, The Missing) makes a good pompous creep on the police council. But best of the bunch is Ken Stott (The Hobbit series, The Dig, The Missing) as the latest police chief and grisly near-retirement boss. Is it strange a series would tap so many from the similar series The Missing? Crime unfortunately is not as good, which leaves it toward the bottom of borg‘s British mystery recommendations. Watch this one only if you’ve run through everything else, which includes at the top Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, Zen, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, The Hour, Shetland, and Van Der Valk, followed by Grace, Hinterland, Glitch, Mystery Road, Professor T, and the first season of Sherlock, plus Marchlands, Lightfields, State of Play, Traces, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Ordeal by Innocence, Unforgotten, The Bay, Wild Bill, Quirke, Requiem, The Gloaming, The One, The Tower, Collateral, Roadkill, Stay Close, The Salisbury Poisonings, and A Confession.
Other British series across genres that are worth checking out (a few still to be reviewed here) include police procedurals Luther and Case Histories, fun romps like Monarch of the Glen, Para Handy, Viva Blackpool, and As Time Goes By, and “cozy mysteries” Rosemary and Thyme, Father Brown, and Death in Paradise. One of the best of all British productions is the reboot of All Creatures Great and Small (and the original is good, too). Of course there’s always Doctor Who for your sci-fi fix (and spin-offs Torchwood and Class), The Watch for your fantasy fix, Truth Seekers and Sea of Souls for your supernatural fix, and Spaced for more sci-fi fun, and we really should add House, MD, for Brit lead Hugh Laurie’s one-of-a-kind performance. And last–and least–we’d add Crime there with Dublin Murders, The ABC Murders, The Pale Horse, The Silence, The Five, The Missing, Thirteen, or Broadchurch).
Of course the second season might be better. Stream all six episodes of the first season of Crime now on BritBox, with season 2 coming later this year.