A gripping international anthology series with powerhouse acting and virtually infinite potential.
This review of Criminal Season 1 is spoiler-free. The full anthology series is set to debut on Friday, September 20th, 2019. Our extensive coverage of the full season will be linked within this review on the day of release.
Netflix’s latest narrative experiment is its new international anthology series Criminal, which combines the familiar late-night cable comfort food of well-worn police procedurals with a diverse — internationally and otherwise — sensibility, and some clever tweaks to structure and storytelling. Criminal Season 1 consists of 12 episodes in four groups of three, with offerings from Germany, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom, each with their own spoken languages, regular casts, and directors (Oliver Hirschbiegel of Germany, Mariano Barroso of Spain, Frederic Mermoud of France, and series creators George Kay and Jim Field Smith of the UK.)
It’s a great idea for a series. But the bolder choice of Criminal Season 1 is to confine each episode almost entirely to an interrogation room. Each country’s episodes offer a new cast of law enforcers who stick around for each of the three regional offerings, but a new suspect and case is wheeled out for each installment, giving every episode a fresh-feeling standalone narrative while also progressing on-going character arcs. There are only three major sets per trio, and all twelve episodes were shot at the Netflix studios at Ciudad de la Tele in Madrid, but each grouping feels completely distinct. Local creative personnel help to craft stories with geographical specificity; you can see the differences in the modes of speech, fashion, cultural references, and on and on.
You’ll pick up on these things, inevitably, because you’ll be so intently focused on the back-and-forth exchanges which form virtually the entirety of Criminal Season 1. The stripped-down interview format is ideal for dispensing information that would be a clunky fit in more naturalistic dialogue, but it’s also great for sucking an audience right into the story. You’ll find yourself, as I was, hanging on every word, tic and tiny idiosyncrasy of each and every suspect, trying to put the clues together for yourself only to find, inevitably, that you’ve missed a crucial piece of information and gotten things completely wrong. Most of the cases tend to begin with played-out concepts and then casually deviate from your expectations, delivering a surprising amount of moral complexity and frequent last-minute swerves to keep you on your toes.
While playing spot-the-difference with the various settings — and obviously trying to solve the cases — will give you the most immediate pleasure, what’s most intriguing about Criminal Season 1 is that it provides a virtually bottomless well of international depravity, and could conceivably go on forever. If it finds an audience on Netflix — which, let’s be frank, it will — there’s really no limit to how many countries it could incorporate, how many horrors it could dredge up, and how much fun the world could have as a result. Highly recommended.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.