Using the novelty of a great cast all playing against type, Criminal: United Kingdom season 2 delivers four more episodes of riveting drama.
This review of Criminal: United Kingdom season 2 is spoiler-free. You can read our thoughts on the first season by clicking these words.
When Criminal first debuted on Netflix almost a year ago to the day, it was in the form of an international anthology – a collection of stories from Germany, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom, all set in a single interrogation room and its adjoining observation area, and concerning a small team of local law enforcement sitting down with a criminal or important witness and getting to the bottom of a crime. At the time, I said the show was excellent and that its potential was infinite, and Netflix has proved me right – don’t you love it when that happens? – by releasing a follow-up batch of British episodes that are simply excellent.
Criminal: United Kingdom season 2 boasts four episodes this time instead of last season’s three, but the quartet relies on the exact same setup: Here’s the interview room itself, here’s the whirring little observation chamber behind the two-way mirror, here’s the hallway with the vending machines where snippets of personal drama unfold between the coppers. It’s simple, granted, but never in a way that feels like it’d be better were it more complex. On the contrary, the pared-down setting and concept are mightily effective, allowing four well-known and talented performers to play radically against type as the interviewees.
There’s a novelty in that alone, but whatever pleasure the audience gets from it is clearly nothing compared to how much the performers enjoy this excuse to really act their way through a story. With no gimmicks, little production to hide behind, and nothing to distract from the conversation, this is an actors’ showcase in the purest sense, and everyone rises to the challenge admirably.
Sophie Okonedo opens the batch as the traumatized wife of a convicted killer; she achieves a range of emotion and ventures into such expressive territory that you can scarcely imagine another performance in the show rivaling it, and yet all of them do. Kit Harington opens his segment as a smug estate agent accused of raping an employee with a seven-minute monologue that is just exquisite; so far removed from the ‘umble, kingly attitude of Jon Snow that it’s striking to see. This episode also begins a theme of the show complicating its cases with moral dilemma and contemporary talking-points – does Kit’s character’s obvious misogyny make him guilty? And if it doesn’t, is he to be treated as a victim?
This complicated dynamic is especially present in Sharon Horgan’s episode, as she plays a self-righteous part-time pedophile hunter whose website Pesticide has caused a great deal of suffering for those both guilty and not. With social media making amateur vigilantism a popular pastime, the cops and the audience both have to reckon with whether she’s doing important work or more harm than good.
Kunal Nayyar, obviously best-known as the hapless Rajesh Koothrappali on The Big Bang Theory, is perhaps most strikingly against-type as a convicted murderer having already served a decade of hard time. At first, I suspected it’d be difficult to divorce him from his long-time sitcom role, but he’s mesmerizing.
Everyone is, to be fair, and the team of coppers whose job is to interrogate these people remain excellent also, though they’re willing to hand Criminal: United Kingdom season 2 over to the showier performances of the bigger names. We once again learn a little about them in snippets of character-building backstory, and I’d like to see all of them again in a third go-around. The potential here remains limitless, and it’s ideal binge-watch material that comes highly recommended.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.