York Times Television Reviews
Notion of Murder as the Way to a Man's Heart
By John J.O'Connor
on still another cigarette, Robbie Coltrane's Fitz, easily the
most offbeat murder-mystery hero of recent seasons, makes a
characteristically nose-thumbing exit from the British series
''Cracker'' on A&E tonight. Oozing disdain, Fitz, a criminal
psychologist brilliant at cracking tough murder cases in and
around Manchester, ponders a personal landscape that includes an
embittered wife, neglected children and a shattered lover, not
to mention monumental addictions to alcohol and gambling. With
grand Celtic perversity, Fitz, created by the writer Jimmy
McGovern, is entirely alien to most pontificating notions of
political correctness. Long known primarily as a comic actor in
films, Mr. Coltrane has accomplished the extraordinary feat of
making the almost insufferable Fitz oddly lovable. He's a scamp
of the highest order, capable of organizing a bingo game at his
mother's Funeral Mass because that's what the old gal enjoyed
most in life. In the beginning, Fitz was merely what might be
termed hefty; he has now reached frightfully blimpish
proportions. Yet he has become a sex object for several women,
and Mr. Coltrane makes sure that you'd better believe it.
two-hour episode, ''True Romance,'' finds Fitz being pursued by
a young woman who turns out to be ardently murderous. Played by
Emily Joyce, diabolically clever Janice is a top candidate for
scariest villain of the year while she sets about delivering up
the dead bodies of young men as offerings to her love for Fitz.
Gradually, Fitz's own family is drawn into her poisonous web.
Meanwhile, Fitz tries to re-establish ties with his 19-year-old
son, Mark (Kieran O'Brien), who has finally found a job in a
fast-food outlet. ''I don't suppose that Wendy's of yours sells
Scotch,'' frazzled Fitz says hopefully. Fitz is not especially
comfortable among young people, noting that ''they're all so
bloody sure of themselves.'' Lecturing students, he assures them
that when they leave home their parents ''are ecstatic to get
the spare room back.'' Beneath the sarcasm, obviously, beats an
intensely caring heart, even though family and friends have
their frequent doubts.
''Prime Suspect,'' in which Helen Mirren beat Robbie Coltrane to
the international-stardom punch, ''Cracker'' has succeeded for
the most part with strong scripts and splendid casting. Mr.
Coltrane has the invaluable support of, among others, Barbara
Flynn as Judith, Fitz's wife; Geraldine Somerville as Detective
Sgt. Penhaligon, his co-worker and lover; Ricky Tomlinson as
Wise, the head of the detective squad, and Clive Russell as
Danny Fitzgerald, Fitz's brother. Invariably, the villains of
the various pieces have been done to wonderfully nasty turns. Is
Fitz being laid to permanent rest? Not exactly. Mr. Coltrane,
whose performance has won two consecutive best-actor awards from
the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, is tired of the
demands of a regular series but allows, ''Someone will come up
with a great story and we'll think let's get back together and
make that, and we will.''
Between Crimes, Adultery and Death By
television has produced two smashing police-detective series in
recent years, each a superb vehicle for its star. Granada
Television takes credit for both: "Prime Suspect,"
with Helen Mirren, and "Cracker," starring Robbie
Coltrane. "Cracker," created by Jimmy McGovern
("Priest"), begins a third season of feature-length
dramas tonight on A&E, three this time. Prepare for some
serious rattling. Running for three hours, including a half-hour
of commercials, "Brotherly Love" picks up more or less
where "Men Should Weep" left off last season.
Traumatized by a rape, Detective Jane Penhaligon (Geraldine
Somerville) had stuffed a gun into the mouth of a detective
colleague, Jimmy Beck (Lorcan Cranitch), whom she believed to be
the disguised rapist. Now it's four months later. Jane, gutsy
but not callous, didn't pull the trigger.
is returning from sick leave, still swearing he didn't do it.
Mr. Coltrane's Fitz, an overweight forensic psychologist who
could easily be mistaken for George Wendt's Norm on
"Cheers," is trying desperately to tread lightly. He
had been having an affair with Jane, a situation that still
doesn't sit well with his wife, Judith (Barbara Flynn), who is
about to give birth to their third child. Then Fitz learns his
mother, whom he has been neglecting, has died. Life is boring
and banal, he observes glumly, "and then a parent dies and
there's a genuine emotion." And that's only what Fitz is
confronting close to home. On the job, a prostitute is found
murdered. The police arrest a family man named David Harvey
(Mark Lambert), whose wife, Maggie (Brid Brennan), is fiercely
protective and whose brother Michael (David Calder) is a Roman
Catholic priest, the same one who will be officiating at the
funeral service for Fitz's mother, a service that will include a
game of Bingo, one of Mom's favorite diversions. David the
suspect is jailed, but murders of prostitutes continue, their
modus operandi involving the victim's doing a little-girl
routine, a "Shirley Temple," for her client while
singing "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" The
police search desperately for a killer, Jane keeps chipping away
at Jimmy's fragile defenses, Fitz burrows mercilessly into the
psyches of both suspects and dear ones.
the plots, Mr. McGovern, who wrote the script, offers ingenious
variations on his obsessive theme of guilt and atonement,
managing to touch on everything from abortion to Mike Tyson.
Fitz, of course, remains grandly incorrigible. In the very first
scene, he looks at a "no smoking" sign in his taxi
while lighting up a cigarette. Driver: "Can you read?"
Fitz, deadpan: "Is that a rhetorical question?" Going
to confession for the first time in some 30 years, he warns the
priest that "this won't be a two-minute job with a damp
sponge." Too much? Fitz defiantly declares, "I am too
much!" Mr. Coltrane makes devastatingly clear why his Fitz
portrayal has for two years in a row walked off with the
best-actor award from the British Academy of Film and Television
Arts. And the rest of the cast keeps up splendidly. Note in
particular the outstanding contributions of three actresses: Ms.
Somerville, Ms. Flynn and Ms. Brennan. "Brotherly
Love" carries an advisory about adult themes. In short,
this is television for grown-ups. And powerful television, at
Unofficial Guide To Cracker 1999-2006