DVD Review– Suspects, Series 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5
Suspects is a British police series with an intriguing twist: it’s largely unscripted. The show is shot like a documentary, the actors are given the basics of each scene, and the conversations are ad libbed. In the right improv-trained hands, the show could be a revelation. As it stands, when watching the show, I kept thinking, “Dear Lord, this series needs some writers.”
During the first four series, the main cast consists of Fay Ripley as Detective Inspector Martha Bellamy, Damien Molony as Detective Sergeant Jack Weston, and Clare-Hope Ashitey as Detective Constable Charlotte “Charlie” Steele. The cast is pretty good but not as witty as they need to be. At least six times an episode, I can come up with a much better line than what is said on screen. At times, the opportunity for a hilariously apt rejoinder is lost. The problem is that a lot of the dialogue is miserably flat. The improvised lines are supposed to make the show feel natural, but the result isn’t so much genuine as flat and lacking in spark. With a terrific screenwriter, the cast could shine.
The cases range from murders and assaults to kidnappings and rapes. Notably, the first, third, and fourth seasons are composed of stand-alone episodes, while the second season consists of two pairs of two-parters, and the fifth season covers an extended storyline over six episodes. In terms of the plotting, many of the situations and plot twists have been done before on other police procedurals. Nothing’s really bad, but nothing’s really fresh and original, either.
The best season is by a nose the fifth, where the case hits close to home after one member of the team is killed. In one scene in Series 5, a suspect drops a bombshell with the potential to severely shake up Weston’s life forever. I don’t know if Molony knew about this twist going into filming, but watching the scene, I got the sense that he might’ve assumed that the actress was unprofessionally going too far in her improvisation. He might’ve figured that the production team would edit it out, but after several reiterations, Molony realized that it really was a plot point, not just the brainwave of an overenthusiastic improv actress.
Another issue is the fact that some characters are clearly told not to talk. In every other British police procedural I’ve seen, when the suspect has a solicitor in the interrogation room, the solicitor barely lets the police officers say three words without annoyingly shrieking, “Don’t answer that,” or “That’s a violation of my client’s human rights.” In Suspects, the solicitors just sit silently, scribbling notes or possibly solving crossword puzzles, never saying a peep. It’s nice for the police, but it gets to be unrealistic.
With the right cast and some more original plot outlining, a show like this could be a revelation. As it stands, it’s a competent but uninspired production. I’ve seen plenty of improv comedy of varying levels of quality, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen improv drama—someday I hope to see it done really well.
Suspects, Series 1 and 2
Suspects, Series 3 and 4
Suspects, Series 5