Netflix series aims to be a British “The Wire”
“We’re really becoming a bad little country,” suggests David Mars, halfway through Netflix’s new UK limited series. Collateral, which begins on Friday. David is an MP who has dedicated his life to both his nation and the Labor Party, but as he expresses that sentiment in a TV interview, he feels quite depressed about the state of both. So, by the way, that’s pretty much everyone on the show.
Created by acclaimed playwright (A lot) and screenwriter (Hours) David Lièvre, Collateral is a police procedure in the sense Thread was a police procedure (or the different seasons of American crime). There’s a murder that starts the story – the murder of a pizza delivery boy, of all things – but it’s an excuse for Hare to explore a series of crises he sees plaguing his homeland, in particular. Following the Brexit vote and anti-immigrant fervor is sweeping through parts of Europe and the United States. Even as cop Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan) investigates the original murder, David (John Simm) fights for the soul of his own party, a group of undocumented immigrants find themselves trapped indefinitely in a detention center, Reverend Jane Oliver (Nicola Walker) deals with the fallout of having a girlfriend who entered Britain illegally, and Private Sandrine Shaw (Jeany Spark) grapples with the lingering trauma of a deployment to the stranger for whom she feels underestimated. It all relates, as Lester Freamon might say, to the murder that happened outside the apartment of David’s ex-wife Karen (Billie Piper), and there is a sense of helplessness. enraged in the whole affair: the system is the system. It continues, no matter how you feel about it.
For a Netflix drama – although co-produced by the BBC, where it premiered last month – Collateral is quite compact at just four episodes. Perhaps this is too much compact for the radical story Hare attempts to tell what happens when immigrants are treated with more hostility than violent criminals, the harms of human trafficking and the damage that can be done by overprotective and reactionary thinking .
The show is so busy exploring its many areas of interest that it can’t spend the necessary time in all of them in just four hours. There is supposed to be a class conflict, for example, between the highly educated – and modestly famous, thanks to an infamous pole vault flop at the Olympics in his youth – Kip and his partner Nathan (Nathaniel Martello- White), but Nathan has to spell the very end of the story as to why he acted so resentfully towards her. Besides, Kip’s athletic past never really seems to influence how Hare writes it, or how Mulligan plays it; it’s just a colorful biographical detail that she can use to break the ice with witnesses. Jane’s relationship with Linh (Kae Alexander) and Linh’s role as a witness to the murder seem hugely important at first, then fade until the end. And the subplot about the spiral that Karen walks into after the murder feels gravely undernourished; There is a backstory about his violent childhood in Beirut that is frequently brought up and then ignored (even David at one point tells him to stop talking about it already), and it never satisfactorily fits all of this. happens, even though the story takes place over just four days, and much of it in the neighborhood where Karen and Jane live.
“It depends on the people,” Kip insists at one point, but more often than not, people from Collateral exist less as characters than as spokespersons for various positions on contemporary Britain that Hare wants to argue for or against. That they’re played by such a superb cast of actors covers a lot of that – Mulligan in particular is so dryly confident that she brings Kip a lot more life than it looks on the page, and the warmth and The quiet strength of Walker’s performance left me wanting to see a Reverend Jane spin-off unrelated to crime – but the political and narrative components of the series never blend together as gracefully as some of its predecessors.
The main exception is Sandrine Shaw, who over the course of four hours receives a lively backstory, recognizable motivation, and a clear, albeit emotionally challenging, arc. Spark (Wallander) isn’t as well known on this side of the pond as some of her co-stars, but Hare invests a lot of the project’s time, faith and emotional power in her, and she keeps her promises. Even in a slightly longer version of the series, Hare might have been able to do this for Kip, Karen, and some of the others, rather than having to paint them in quick, big strokes. (MI5 agent wonders if maybe Kip is “just one more rule-breaking detective?”)
It’s a great cast, and the show has its moments of wry humor (my new ringtone will be Carey Mulligan will ask, as Kip tries to chase a wandering track, “Where’s Boca Raton?”) And great pathos, and for once you won’t feel like a streaming drama exceeds the length of your stay is welcome, but Collateral the scope is ultimately beyond its reach.
Alan Sepinwall can be reached at [email protected] He discusses television weekly on the Avalanche TV podcast. His new book, Break the bad 101, is on sale now.