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Fitz: Can I play the dirty old man for just one minute?
DVD ReviewFor the first 20 or 30 minutes, I actively disliked this show. Then, somewhere in the next 20 minutes, I realized I kind of liked it. Shortly thereafter, I realized I really liked it and I was hooked. Now that I've seen three full stories in seven episodes, I love it! Full-blown Cracker-mania. If you like police procedurals combined with interesting character studies, some dry British wit and a bit of adult soap opera thrown in, you will find much to like here, though a bit of tolerance for blood and gore crime scene footage is a necessity. Patience is a virtue as well, since it takes some time for the interesting and varied British accents to become understandable. This series was well liked enough to win a number of prestigious awards during its short three-year run on the BBC; Robbie Coltrane also won numerous awards for his starring role.
"Cracker" is a term that applies to Dr. Fitzgerald, known commonly as Fitz (Robbie Coltrane), a psychologist who maintains a private practice in Manchester, England, while juggling a serious gambling habit and a family life that teeters on destruction due to his somewhat boorish personality (and habit of spending too much on the ponies). Barbara Flynn does a fine job of playing Judith, the disgusted wife who refuses to tolerate his habits. Fitz is a fat and blustery 40- or 50-something who manages to get by on his considerable wit and intelligence, as well as a blisteringly good talent at mirroring the thoughts and motives of social deviants. Because of his expertise, he is called in to help the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Manchester Police crack a particularly unpleasant murder. Thereafter his considerable interrogation skills are tough to ignore and he becomes crucial to any unsolved murder investigation in the city. He talks with suspects in a very insightful way and even tells them what they are thinking. Suspects may be confirmed or not, but talking with Fitz moves things off dead center, sometimes not without substantial effort.
This three-disc set provides the first year's production of this BBC series, making up three complete stories, presented in two or three episodes each: The Mad Woman in the Attic, To Say I Love You, and One Day a Lemming Will Fly. Since this is the first year of the series, Fitz is introduced for the first time, as well as the many testy and overworked characters in the Criminal Investigation Unit who work with him—and sometimes against him. Family and secondary characters such as the working police staff become very familiar and believable. Perhaps one could call it a rather dark Cheers with one quarter the comedic effect.
The Mad Woman in the Attic presents Fitz in his self-destructive milieu. After a particularly brutal murder, he is asked to interrogate an allegedly amnesiac suspect. This is the first time when we really see Fitz in action as an actively mirroring "companion" to a possible criminal, trying to empathize with his motives and thoughts. Not an easy task, as Fitz uses his considerable skill and knowledge to show that he understands how a beautiful young girl could be murdered. His expression and generally plastic facial features, along with his stunning dialogue and delivery make it almost impossible to take one's eyes off him. Coltrane gives his Fitz the most fabulous pauses, lifted eyebrows, and general intensity. Perhaps he is more believable specifically because he has such down-home, plain looks; the general magnetism of Fitz, and Robbie Coltrane, takes hold and never after lets go.
To Say I Love You is a three-episode tale of dysfunction and loss. Fitz's marital problems have not been resolved, and a woman and her severely stuttering boyfriend are suspected of several murders. Without revealing any spoilers, let's just say that they have plenty of problems between them, regardless of guilt. The casting in this story is excellent; Andrew Tiernan as the stuttering Sean is right on target, with plenty of believable youthful angst and energy. Susan Lynch as the hauntingly beautiful Tina Brien could not have been better chosen. The regulars in the police department include Detective Chief Investigator Bilborough (Christopher Eccleston), Detective Beck (Lorcan Cranitch) and Detective Jan Penhaligon or "Panhandle" (Geraldine Somerville). They are quite believable and become more fleshed out in character as the series progresses.
One Day a Lemming Will Fly is yet another worthy entry in this series. The workmate jocularity between Fitz and "Panhandle" is affecting and entirely realistic. This episode is rather unusual for crime television drama in that it has a rather unique ending. There's also some tragicomic slapstick involving a backhoe, which I found moving in both dimensions.
The production aspects of this series are quite interesting visually. In the beginning, a good deal of abrupt scene intercutting and overdubbing of music is used to give a very compelling texture to the story. There is some play with camera tricks, POV scenes, etc. I particularly liked the abstracted use of lights and backlit window contrasts. The location of this series, the suburban area of Manchester, England, is quite bland, neither overly gritty nor particularly scenic. It gives a highly realistic view of middle-class British life, away from the usual tourist paths. I normally don't like crime drama, but I cannot wait for the second series to be available.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: The image is rather soft throughout; in an apparent attempt to remedy this issue substantial amounts of edge enhancement have been added in an attempt to fool the eye into believing that a sharp picture is being provided. Alas, instead it just puts substantial rings around dark objects framed against light backgrounds. Color is decent, though frequently the palette is limited to shades of blue reflecting the coldness of a police procedural. The picture tends to be rather grainy. Moderate speckling is visible throughout. Decent for television, but nothing great.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: The sound on the other hand is quite good, with an interesting sound design and pronounced directionality. The music has excellent presence and very good range, and the foley effects have excellent immediacy. There's substantial use of the surrounds. Dialogue is clear and hiss and noise are quite limited.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 45 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Extras Review: The sole extra is a short biography of Coltrane. Chaptering is a little thin, with about one stop every seven minutes on average. The case is a sturdy clamshell that's quite attractive.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsThe classic and excellently produced crime drama makes its way to DVD courtesy of HBO in a decent transfer (with the sound being better than the video) but without much for extras.
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