About fifteen minutes into the first episode of Cracker, I found myself wondering "Why haven't I heard of this show before? How could I have missed this?" Somehow, it had slipped under my radar, which is too bad, because this is an excellent show. The actors are all superb, the stories intricate and riveting, and the characters are complex, three dimensional people.
This crime drama centers around Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald, a psychologist, with a wife and two children. He is a brilliant man who works with the London police on occasion. Fitz can read people as easily as most people read a book. He can find the cracks in a suspects personality, and then pry it open to reveal what they are hiding inside.
This gifted man is also an alcoholic, a chain smoker, an addicted gambler and very abrasive. He is charming, overweight, incredibly arrogant, and funny. He may be less sane than the people that he helps the police catch. His home life is a shambles. His wife is leaving him, and he can't communicate with his son. Eddie Fitzgerald is one of the most complex and interesting characters ever brought to life on screen. Add to that some great scripts, and you've got a winner of a program.
This show is equal parts who-done-it, psychological thriller, and police procedural. Each episode is very tight, with just about all the scenes having a purpose and advancing the plot. There is very little extraneous material. The resolutions are surprising yet they seen natural and believable.
This first season of hour long shows consist of the following three stories. Each story, two or three shows long, is contained on its own disc.
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 a 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?
One of the brilliant things about this show, is it is able to portray a very intelligent man who has problems that his genius not only can't solve, but exacerbates. His gambling and drinking are mill stones around his neck, but he doesn't see it that way. In one scene, he goes to a Gambler's Anonymous meeting to please his wife. It goes badly and he ends up giving a convincing lecture on why gambling is not evil, but actually good for you.
This show would not be as half as good without the talented Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies) in the lead role. Robbie brings Fitz to life. It is an incredibly difficult part, with all the contradictions and insecurities and strengths that make up Fitz. Robbie has to be charming and funny in one scene, insecure the next, and arrogant and in control in yet another. Coltrane lives up to the task admirably. What a lesser actor would have made this into a run of the mill cop show, Coltrane turns into a classic.
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 the first 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. You can feel her rage and sorrow and heartbreak as she yells at him. "Why not a normal addiction Fitz? Heroin or Cocaine? Do too much and your 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 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. The dialog was clear and easy to understand, even with the British accents.
This show was made by Granada Television in 1993. Unfortunately, the print does not seem to have held up well. Presented in its original full frame aspect ratio, this transfer is slightly blurry and indistinct. Lines are not sharp and the colors are slightly muted. There are a few flecks and spots throughout the three discs, but not many. The dark scenes tend to be a little grainy. It is really too bad that a show of this caliber does not have a better presentation.
There are very little in the way of extras on in this set. There is a Robbie Coltrane biography on the first disc, but nothing else. The whole cast is top notch and deserved to have biographies on the discs too. A commentary track by the writer, director and/or stars would have been splendid, and it's too bad that one wasn't included.
This is just an outstanding series. Excellent acting, a wonderful script and engaging characters. The plots are well thought out, with tight plotting and surprising twists. While the video quality isn't spectacular, it shouldn't stop anyone from purchasing this set. A must buy for anyone who likes well crafted tales. I just sorry I hadn't heard about it years ago.