Culprits Season 1 Review – Hulu heist thriller sticks to the plan and makes off with the loot

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: November 8, 2023
Previous ArticleView all
Culprits Season 1 Review
Culprits Season 1 | Image via Hulu/Disney


A slick, smart heist thriller grounded by excellent performances, Culprit is high-caliber genre entertainment that’s fully worthy of a binge.

Culprits is a suspiciously undermarketed heist thriller streaming on Hulu in the U.S. and Disney+ everywhere else, and like the best cons, it seems to have been pulled off under everyone’s noses. There wasn’t any hype for it at all, despite a fantastic cast and stylized visuals and an endlessly profitable “gang of misfits steal from some very dangerous people” premise. I don’t know why. What I do know is that suddenly Culprits is everywhere, and people will probably watch it in great numbers and find it rather enjoyable.

There’s only so sophisticated this kind of thing can be. The pattern is usually the same. A colorful cast of characters with very specific talents teams up to steal something valuable in a very elaborate way, and there are consequences for them doing so which often prove deadly. Culprits doesn’t differ from this well-established format, but it does do everything in its power to liven up the more played-out aspects.

Culprits Season 1 Review and Plot Summary

Our protagonist is Joe (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a seemingly normal suburban man who plays doting stepfather to the children of his partner, Jules (Kevin Vidal), and is trying to turn a dilapidated hardware store into a community bistro. Nothing to see here! This, though, is entirely the point, since Joe hasn’t been honest with Jules about his background.

J Blakeson, the creator of Culprits, unfurls the narrative in three timelines. Joe is only Joe in the “NOW” portions. In the “BEFORE” bits, he’s David, a personal trainer who moonlights as the deadly bodyguard of a London crime boss. Following an impressive bit of bodyguarding, he’s recruited by the enigmatic Dianne Harewood (Gemma Arterton, having a fantastic time) to pull off a complex heist that’ll defraud some fat cats of their ill-gotten gains but raise so much attention that he and the rest of the team will have no choice but to disappear forever and start new lives elsewhere.

This brings us to “THEN”, wherein Joe/David becomes Muscle, the codenamed member of a crew hand-picked by Dianne (whose codename is Brain) and including various other noir-ish archetypes like Driver (Vincent Riotta), Fixer (Karl Collins), Officer (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and Specialist (Niamh Algar). Yes, we’re sneakily remaking Reservoir Dogs – Specialist, who is also known as “Psycho”, is playing the Michael Madsen part – and splicing it with the Ocean’s movies here.

But the clever aspect of Culprits is that, like Reservoir Dogs in a sense, it’s playing out of sequence. We meet Joe in the “NOW” timeline first, and are shown early on that he has a tremendous amount of moolah. We know, then, that the heist must have been at least partially successful, but we don’t know the details, and we’re only drip-fed them across eight hour-long episodes. Meanwhile, Joe’s personal present-day circumstances are complicated by a string of seemingly unconnected misfortunes, and a mysterious, masked professional killer doing the rounds and killing off everyone who worked on the job provides an incentive for Joe to dip a toe back into the underworld he thought he had escaped from.

The show’s incremental storytelling is its great selling point since it’s designed in a way to keep you watching without having to rely on cheap gotcha cliffhangers that are resolved in the first few minutes of the next episode. The entire season is a tangled knot of secrets, lies, crosses, double-crosses, hidden motivations, and unexpected turns. Blakeson is intelligent about how much information is revealed, and certain key aspects of the plot remain obscured for far longer than they would be in most other shows.

Getting away with it

Somehow, this isn’t as frustrating as you’d think. It isn’t really frustrating at all, because Culprits remains entertaining in the moment thanks to bold visuals, exciting set-pieces, and excellent performances, particularly from Stewart-Jarrett. New characters are introduced as needed, and old ones are killed off in surprisingly brutal ways, giving the show an oddly lurid, almost B-movie quality.

Don’t get the wrong impression, though – Culprits isn’t just style over substance. Its stylized, comic book-y visuals belie very smart construction and a surprising amount of depth and sophistication in the writing, particularly in the “NOW” sequences which ground Joe’s emotional stakes in his queer relationship and make his being a Black man in a lily-white neighborhood significant but not performatively preachy.

There is so much to like here, then, that it’s a wonder how little fuss has been made of this show in its own “BEFORE” timeline. Still, there’s plenty of time for word-of-mouth to give Culprits the big score it’s looking for, and I, for one, hope it gets away with it.

What did you think of Culprits Season 1? Let us know in the comments.

RELATED: Culprits Season 1 Episode 1 Recap

Disney+, Hulu, Streaming Service, TV, TV Reviews
Previous ArticleView all