Ultraviolet boasts an intriguing premise and a game cast, but it’s marred by contrivance and cliché.
Ultraviolet, a ten-episode Polish crime drama that debuted on Netflix today, is one of those shows that make it clear they’re about technology by superimposing a giant phone on the screen whenever anyone receives a text message. It has hashtag episode titles and the characters discuss emojis with the same kind of reverential seriousness as murder weapons or dead bodies. It’s kind of dumb.
Perhaps “dumb” isn’t entirely fair, but let’s just say if it was any more on the nose it would need to register for a boxing license. The premise concerns a group of amateur sleuths who trawl the internet solving crimes that the local police are unable to. The police, perhaps unsurprisingly, are cynical, Luddite traditionalists who are more concerned with minimising paperwork than maximising efficiency. And to those guys, the dumb label most certainly applies.
That’s one of the problems with Ultraviolet, which has to make traditional crime-fighting subpar to justify the efforts of its always-online poindexter heroes. As a result it depicts the police as uniformly corrupt, incompetent or uninterested, with the obvious exception of the handsome, for some reason always casually-dressed detective who functions as both a love interest for the protagonist and a narratively useful route into officialdom whenever the dorks inevitably crack the case.
Speaking of the protagonist, she’s good, which is fortunate. Her name is Ola Serafin and she’s played, very well, by Marta Nieradkiewicz, who actually comes from the Polish city of Lódz where the character returns after circumstances force her to depart a cushy married life in London. Her mother (Agata Kulesza) is still mourning the loss of another child, Ola’s brother, which adds some familial texture to Ultraviolet’s otherwise glossy surface.
This is all loosely based on the 2014 non-fiction book by Deborah Halber, The Skeleton Crew, which detailed the phenomenon of obsessive citizens creating internet resources to identify human remains and solve forgotten cold cases. Ultraviolet tries to give the idea a dramatic slant by having the researchers meddle in on-going crimes, but the writing simply isn’t good enough to do it justice. The lines of inquiry are painfully obvious; the pieces fit too neatly together, and if a clue seems a little too elusive, you can always count on a guest appearance from someone with very specific expertise.
Ultraviolet light can be used to expose all kinds of smears and stains that are invisible to the human eye, but this show doesn’t have any secrets to offer beyond obvious mediocrity.