Cracker – The Complete Collection
directed by Tim Fywell
starring Robbie Coltrane, Geraldine Somerville, Christopher Eccleston
He’s arrogant, rude, insensitive, a social outcast, and flawed in almost every way imaginable except one: He gets results. And the people who need him have to deal with the fact that it is better to have him on their side than to get rid of him. No, I’m not talking about Gregory House, Vic Mackie, or even Tony Soprano. Dr. Edward “Fitz” Fitzgerald preceded all of these great characters, and he paved the way for the misanthropic “good guy you love to hate.”
Played by the always brilliant Robbie Coltrane, Fitz is a psychologist who has a talent of getting inside a criminal’s head and cracking the case when no one else can, hence the title Cracker. Most episodes have him being called in to assist the police on whatever new crime spree is affecting the people of Manchester. The precarious balance that Coltrane has to maintain to keep us interested in the alcoholic, gambling-addicted womanizer who can see into the darkest depths of the disturbed is what has won him several awards for the character.
While Coltrane is in exceptional form here, he is not alone. His supporting cast serves to build the rich world Fitz inhabits. From his long-suffering wife and their children, to the members of Manchester’s Police Service, we get a feeling of how his behavior affects those around him and how those reactions in turn impact his behavior. Judith Fitzgerald (Barbara Flynn) is shown in the beginning of the series to be a poor victim of Fitz’s excesses, but later episodes show us that she shares some blame for the problems in their marriage, and the scope of just how dysfunctional they are continues to amaze the viewers.
The supporting cast at the police station includes Geraldine Somerville (the Harry Potter movies) as Jane Penhaligon, the lone female detective in the station and usually the biggest supporter Fitz has. She is sometimes his partner, sometimes his friend, and on occasion his lover. Their ongoing interactions truly bring the heart to this dark look at humanity. Lorcan Cranitch (Rome) plays blowhard detective Jimmy Beck, who rises above being a mere paper cutout to show the difficulties some cops had in changing with the times. Christopher Eccleston (Doctor Who) played a memorable role as Chief Inspector Bilborough, the relatively new boss who is forced to rely on a psychologist to solve crimes. The strength of these bonds are evident in the two movies from the end of the run, one in which Fitz is visiting Hong Kong (“White Ghost”), and the other where his return to Manchester has him working with a new set of detectives (“A New Terror”). While both are interesting mysteries, the character interaction suffers, and thus they are substandard when compared to the earlier work.
Additionally, the antagonists Fitz is put up against are noteworthy. With feature-length mysteries to work with, the writers are able to build up characters who, in most American shows, would end up being little more than ciphers. Instead we get layered, complex characterizations, brought to life by actors who really get a chance to invest something of themselves in the role. The best example of this is Robert Carlyle’s performance as Albie Kinsella, a working-class guy whose life has fallen apart in “To Be a Somebody.” The metamorphosis from factory worker to terrorist is fascinating, and having his point-of-view present elevates the Fitz/police investigation to another level.
All of these feature-length mysteries have been available on DVD previously, and the only special feature is a 45-minute documentary with interviews from most of the cast. While insightful, it does not merit repurchasing any of the other content. The packaging is quite nice, packing eleven DVDs into a single binder with convenient slide-in pouches for the discs. If you are a fan who has been waiting for a collected edition, jump on this one. If you already have all of these discs, there’s no need for a re-purchase, unless you want to sell the old discs and conserve some shelf space. But if you have never experienced Cracker, I urge you to give Fitz a chance and see if you don’t agree that he is one of the most complex characters ever to grace the small screen.