Suspect is a silly crime drama taken far too seriously
The opening of Channel 4’s Suspect was a familiar scene: James Nesbitt, as a gruff detective, arrived at a hospital mortuary for a routine check on an unidentified female body. Armed with dental records of a missing woman who may be a match, he had a frosty chat with the brusque pathologist, played by Joely Richardson, about what looked like a probable suicide. It’s as British crime drama as British crime drama gets.
But just as Nesbitt’s Detective Danny Frater was about to head through the double doors and get stuck into the next case, he recognised a horseshoe necklace found with the body, peeled back the white sheet and discovered that the dead woman was his own daughter, Christina.
And thus the police procedural turned personal, with Danny refusing to believe the evidence suggesting that Christina took her own life and setting off on a rogue mission to understand what happened to his daughter.
Suspect is the English language remake of the Danish show Forhøret, meaning face to face, and it takes its title literally. Admirably trying to do something different from the glut of other Scandi-noir (and Scandi-noir-inspired) crime thrillers that have flooded screens over the past decade, as the series progresses the show consists almost entirely of two-handers between Nesbitt and a starry line-up of guest actors.
As Danny delves into his daughter’s life, in each episode he encounters someone to interrogate, including Niamh Algar as Christina’s wife, Richard E Grant as her mentor and Anne-Marie Duff as Danny’s ex.
In press for the show, Nesbitt has said “I really can’t wait to lock horns with my fellow cast members and to lead this incredible array of acting talent”, perhaps inadvertently highlighting that Suspect does run the risk of being more of a self-indulgent actorly showcase than a substantial or gripping story. As telly two-handers so often are, it is extremely stagey and seems probable to vary in quality depending on who the weekly guest star is.
The closest comparison would be Netflix’s Criminal, but where that show spent each episode unravelling a new case in granular detail, Suspect’s wordy half-hour instalments offered a lot of script but didn’t seem to be saying very much or do enough to make you care about the characters.
Although it might be authentic for a grieving parent to ask the same questions over and over again, the format of conversations unfolding largely in real time became repetitive even by episode two (which did offer a strong performance from Algar). Perhaps it would work better as a tight two-hour play.
Ostensibly, the conceit should allow for an exploration of Danny’s grief, and in the first episode, the claustrophobic mortuary setting compounded the tension as his anguish led him to lock the doors, threaten the pathologist and steal evidence. But while Nesbitt was certainly acting with a capital A, portraying Danny’s guilt at having pushed his daughter away, Suspect didn’t quite align its attempts at psychological depth with its mystery element once the main investigation kicked in.
The reveal that Christina was involved in cryptocurrency and the local lapdancing club and had both fake IDs and a mysterious source of income felt like throwing a bit too much “seedy underworld” detail at the wall.
In a potentially uneven series, there may be some standout episodes (it’s hard to imagine Duff not being captivating) but so far, Suspect is both very serious and quite silly at the same time.
Suspect continues on Monday 20 June at 9pm on Channel 4