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Cracker: The Complete Collection
Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald (Robbie Coltrane) is a brilliant psychologist. He is able to read people with ease, discovering their motivations, fears, and weaknesses. He can analyze and diagnose a person almost instantly. He can do this to everyone but himself. Fitz is a deeply troubled person, whose personal life is spiraling downward out of control. Anyone can see what is wrong except himself. He is addicted to alcohol and tobacco. He gambles heavily, and lords his great intelligence over everyone. That causes him to have few friends, and a very strained relationship with his family.
Fitz' psychological skills make him very useful to the police though. He has an exceptional eye for detail, and is able to examine a crime scene and recreate what happened with an uncanny ability. While his personality pushes away many on the police force, his ability to get the job done makes him indispensable.
Cracker is an all around excellent show. Not your typical detective program however, the main character is almost an anti-hero. It's the fact that Fitz is so imperfect that makes him such an interesting 'detective.' His personal troubles, that permeate the show, ironically illustrate how the only content time in his life is when he's working on a case.
One of the great things about the show is that it is very unpredictable. Over the course of the original TV run there were some very unforeseen twists and turns in the lives of the main characters. Mistakes are made, big mistakes, which have lasting consequences. Major characters are affected in adverse ways, which is very realistic, but surprising for a TV show. This also leads to the uncertainly which increases the suspense. If one major character can be hurt, why can't others?
Robbie Coltrane, who is best known for Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies, is an excellent actor, and plays the part to perfection. His character has many moods and he plays them all very well. Coltrane is able to fold all of Fitz' diametrically opposed personality traits into one believably real person. A splendid job.
The rest of the supporting cast is simply superb. There is not a weak actor in the bunch. And, just as importantly, there isn't a stereotypical character either. All of the characters have frailties and strengths.
Barbara Flynn does an excellent job as Fitz's wife, Judith. In one episode she learns that they are overdrawn by thousands at the bank, and that Fitz has forged her signature on a 2nd mortgage, the money from which he has also lost gambling. You can feel her rage and sorrow and heartbreak all at the same time as she yells at him. "Why not a normal addiction Fitz? Heroin or Cocaine? Do too much and you're dead. Why pick something so bloody limitless?"
Another quality the show has is a great sound track. The music used in the show is very effective. It helps set the mood and underlines the themes of the show. It blends in well and is unobtrusive.
The episodes in this collection, all of the Cracker material broadcast in the UK in chronological order, include:
The Mad Woman in the Attic: A serial killer has murdered a woman in a train compartment. A man who had jumped off the moving train is found, near death, next to the tracks. After he recovers he claims to have amnesia. Fitz has to determine if he really has a memory or not. If he's not the killer, why did he jump from the train, and who did kill the girl?
To Say I Love You: Two young lovers kill a loan shark who is pressuring them for money, only to find out that murder is a great aphrodisiac. A very interesting episode that delves into the relationship between sex and violence.
One Day a Lemming Will Fly: A young boy is found hanging in the woods. Soon afterwards, one of the boy's teachers attempts suicide. Could he have killed the boy, and if so why? If not, what is he hiding, and why try to kill himself?
To be a Somebody: A Pakistani grocer is killed for no apparent reason. The police think the murder was racially motivated, but Fitz isn't so sure. The police spurn Fitz for another psychiatrist who gives a standard profile that Eddie thinks is a bunch of hogwash. But when the new profiler turns up dead in his office, the police have no choice but to turn to Fitz.
The Big Crunch: A young girl is missing, and parents are acting very strangely, so Detective Penhalligon asks Fitz to talk to them. When the girl eventually turns up naked with odd mystic symbols drawn all over her body members of her church come under suspicion. With the small sect feeling persecuted, everyone keeps their mouths shut. Can Fitz find out what's behind their silence and make them open up?
Men Should Weep: A serial rapist is lose on the streets and everyone is feeling scared. Fitz appears on a radio talk show, which the rapist hears. But what he hears convinces him to escalate his attacks. Can Fitz 'crack' this personality before someone close to him is hurt?
Brotherly Love: A man is arrested for killing a prostitute after she threatens to tell the client's wife of the affair. Fritz is sure he's guilty, but when another hooker ends up dead apparently killed by the same killer, the rest of the force isn't so sure.
Best Boys: A runaway from a foster home and a factory worker start committing a string of violent crimes.
True Romance: In the best story of the season, a female lab tech who works at the same university as Fritz develops a crush on him and starts sending him anonymous love letters. She also comes up with a fool-proof plan to get his attention: she starts killing people.
TV Movie (1996) - White Ghost: Lecturing in Hong Kong Fritz stumbles upon a mystery. When a near bankrupt businessman discovers that his girlfriend is planning on having an abortion, he kills the doctor and imprisons the girl planning on holding her until she gives birth.
This first TV movie didn't have the appeal of the original series. All of the supporting characters (save one) are missing and it feels like a lesser production because of it. While it's not bad (we have to wait for the next movie for that) and worth watching, it's a minor piece.
TV Movie (2006) - New Terror: After spending several years in Australia, Fritz has come back to England for his daughter's marriage. He's bored just sitting around, so when he hears that an American comic has been killed for apparently no reason, he offers his services to the Manchester Police. The only problem is that the murderer isn't your typical killer, he's an ex-soldier troubled by the things he's seen and done in Northern Ireland and a current police officer assigned to investigating the murder that he committed.
This was pretty near unwatchable. It has all the hallmarks of a great episode except for one thing: writer Jimmy McGovern (who created the show and penned the best show's first two seasons) decided to use this film to make a political statement and he does it without finesse but with all the subtlety of a flying mallet. The basic message of the show is that the US didn't care about terrorism until 9/11 and afterwards it only made things worse with its arrogant cowboy attitude and the naïve way they lashed out after the attacks. This movie is nothing more than a political statement bashing the US. It is Cracker-lite whose raison d'être is to grind a political axe. There was so much chest-beating that the story gets lost somewhere in the midst of it all. Even Robbie Coltrane seems to be more of a supporting character.
The audio is presented in Dolby surround sound. The rear channels are not used very effectively. Mainly for music and occasionally background noise that is also present in the front speakers. The sound was fairly clean, though there was some background hiss noticeable at very high levels. This should not bother anyone viewing it at regular levels.
Presented in full frame (what I assume to be its original aspect ratio,) this image quality is similar the first season's. The picture is slightly blurry and indistinct, and the lines are not sharp. The colors are slightly muted also. There are a few flecks and spots throughout the three discs, but not many. The dark scenes tend to be a little grainy, and a little on the dark side. Some details are lost in dark corners. Not a horrible looking set, just not stellar.
This set also includes a 45-minute featurette: Cracker: Behind the Scenes. This special interviews the cast (including Christopher Eccleston who later go on to become the last Time Lord in the updated Doctor Who) and creators of the show and looks at the casting, stories, and critical acclaim the show has garnered. A very good overview of the program.
Cracker is a great show. The crimes and Fitz analysis is still very interesting, and the supporting characters are still very appealing. If you enjoy intriguing character-driven drama it doesn't get better than this. Highly Recommended.