Above Suspicion (2009-2012) was a popular British police drama based on the book series by prolific author Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect). Divided into four series of two to three parts apiece---including "Above Suspicion" (150 minutes, 2009), "The Red Dahlia" (180 minutes, 2010), "Deadly Intent" (180 minutes, 2011), and "Silent Scream" (180 minutes, 2012)---each separate cluster of episodes revolves around the unlikely pairing of young Detective Constable Anna Travis (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Holmes) and grizzled Detective Chief Inspector James Langton (Ciarin Hinds, Munich). She's the daughter of a decorated former member of the police force and, for obvious reasons, must prove that she's not just there because of her last name or pretty face. Nonetheless, she's almost immediately hen-pecked by her co-workers for wearing the same blouse for several days in a row and having a weak stomach.
Petty moments like this feel even more calculated when Above Suspicion bares its fangs: this is an intense, graphic, and grisly show at almost every turn, chock full of stomach-churning crime scene "corpses" that almost trick us into thinking it's a documentary. But no documentary worth its salt would focus its attention on such a poorly-written central character: Anna Travis repeatedly makes some of the most baffling decisions that render her character almost completely unlikable before the first installment is over. She's not necessarily mean-spirited or prickly, she's just not all that bright...which doesn't exactly help her case as an up-and-coming detective. When the petite young woman threatens a wheelchair-bound, corrupt former policeman by holding him near the edge of a pool, it's almost laughable. When the self-titled first series fizzles out with a complete lack of compelling suspects---in fact, there's really just one, and he's portrayed skillfully by Jason Durr---a resulting interrogation drags on for nearly half the episode, and Anna is given an exaggerated amount of credit for doing what amounts to very little legwork.
It gets a little worse before it gets better. In perhaps the show's most compelling series ("The Red Dahlia", divided into three parts), Anna Travis somehow becomes romantically involved with a member of the press during a hush-hush case that mirrors the real life unsolved "Black Dahlia" murder; not surprisingly, he's able to glean sensitive information and she rightfully almost loses her job. Conveniently enough, she's given an almost immediate second chance that restores her reputation and, though the resulting investigation and arrest is much more layered, all comes down to a paint-by-numbers set of circumstances that you'll probably guess well in advance. Even so, there's a lot going on here and, for the most part, the performances of key supporting characters hold the show together.
While Anna and James Langton are technically on the same side, the friction of their working relationship is almost excessive to the point of comedy. He's certainly justified in the tough treatment of an unproven, second-generation crop, but Ciaran Hinds rarely elevates the character to anything more than the drill sergeant made famous by R. Lee Ermey. Sure, he softens his position to Anna as certain installments progress, but it all feels more convenient to the plot than the actual character. Without much more than the repeated suggestion that he's an alcoholic---as well as the borderline disturbing "personal advances" he makes towards the attractive daughter of a former co-worker, of course---he doesn't feel like much more than an abstract roadblock for her to clumsily move around in her quest for career success and her own reputation. In all honesty, it's disappointing that any female-driven series would be squandered in such a way, and it's doubly disappointing when it comes from the author of Prime Suspect.
Initially, Above Suspicion performed well in the ratings but each successive outing proved less popular; not surprisingly, ITV cancelled it a few months after "Silent Scream". As a result, the remaining five installments of Above Suspicion in book form---including "Clean Cut" (2007), "Blind Fury" (2010), "Blood Line" (2011) "Backlash" (2012), and "Wrongful Death" (2013)---won't be adapted for TV anytime soon. As such, this four-disc boxed set contains the entire series on three volumes: the first groups together "Above Suspicion" and "The Red Dahlia", while "Deadly Intent" and "Silent Scream" are presented separately. The latter is due for release on the same day as this collection, which at least shows that Acorn Media isn't dangling exclusive content over the heads of British television fans.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
I've reviewed a handful of Acorn releases in the past, and their inconsistent quality was usually the result of weak source materials, faulty NTSC-PAL conversion, no progressive flagging, or a combination of the three. Above Suspicion is no exception: the entire production has a cheap digital look that dates it almost a decade or more, as mid-range and background details are frequently muddled in a sea of bland earth tones and general noisiness. Perhaps Above Suspicion simply looks ugly by design: this is, after all, a police procedural that revolves around horrific crimes and over-the-top villains. But the weak textures, inconsistent black levels, and frequent digital combing certainly don't do it any favors...and though only a fraction of these problems might be traced back to the DVD conversion and/or disc authoring, it's tough to give Above Suspicion anything close to excellent marks. Later installments fare slightly better, whether due to slightly larger budgets or technical advancements. Overall, these 1.78:1 anamorphic transfers are watchable from a basic standpoint, but there's definitely room for improvement.
DISCLAIMER: The promotional images in this review are decorative and do not represent this DVD's native 480p image resolution.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mixes don't aim especially high either, but their slight lack of impact isn't nearly as bothersome. Dialogue is almost always crisp and clean no matter the regional accents, while music cues and background details are noticeable without fighting for attention. Though I'd have loved to hear a more involved surround mix during certain scenes, what's here certainly gets the job done and doesn't register as disappointing overall. Optional English SDH subtitles have been included during all four main features and some of the extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The simple interfaces on each disc include separate options for episode selection, subtitle setup and bonus features. This surprisingly bulky four-disc set arrives in three separate standard-sized keepcases housed in a new "complete series" slipcover; like everything else about these discs, there's no difference between this collection and each of the separate releases made available during the last few years. No complaints, aside from its massive footprint.
Surprisingly, each disc arrives with an assortment of short but enjoyable extras...and though they don't look and sound very polished, the information is good. For starters, a 20-25 minute Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
is included on each disc and focuses on production, development, shooting, the terrific "corpses" and other elements, and each one makes for a nice post-show wrap up that doesn't wear out its welcome. A few shorter Interviews
featuring key cast and crew members are included; among others, we hear from series creator Lynda La Plante, actors Kelly Reilly, Jason Durr, Nicholas Le Prevost, and Ciaran Hinds. Also include are a few stray Featurettes
highlighting production design, makeup and special effects, the source material and more, as well as a few Photo Galleries
. It's a nice spread that adds modest value to this collection...but again, nothing new or different from the separate releases.
Wildly inconsistent and frequently baffling, Above Suspicion is still an entertaining series for at least one run-through. Kelly Reilly and Ciaran Hinds make for an oddly matched pair of leads: she feels miscast and can't salvage many of her character's poorly-written moments, while he never rises too far above the clichéd "gruff and tough boss" on the coin's other side. It all feels very derivative at times, partly in comparison to author and series writer Lynda La Plante's past work, as well as popular benchmark thrillers like Seven and The Silence of the Lambs. But there's a certain charm to the series as a whole, due in part to a few committed supporting characters and the frighteningly realistic crime scene "corpses" that punctuate otherwise standard procedural moments. Acorn Media's four-disc collection herds together all three previous sets inside a slipcover, which might make this more attractive to new audiences. The somewhat bland A/V presentation is a mild disappointment, but a nice little spread of bonus features adds a modest amount of value. Still, I'd recommend that new fans try one of the separate volumes first; since seasoned fans probably own most or all of these already, it doesn't exactly make for an essential release. Rent It.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.