When the first series of frenetic crime drama Suspects first ran on Channel 5 earlier this year (the channel’s first original drama for eight years), it wasn’t much of an enticing prospect. Did we really need yet another dour police procedural? Yet the semi-improvised series, which follows three London CID officers led by DCI Martha Maloney (Fey Ripley), was not the failure many predicted. Instead it rejuvenated the genre with its brisk, no-frills approach, drawing an overwhelmingly positive response from critics in the process.
Now it’s back for a second run of five episodes, and showing no signs of letting its midseason hiatus dampen the tempo. Last night’s episode, the first of a two-parter, cut straight to the action as police found barrister Jonathan Moxton in his home with a severe head injury, his wrists bound with a belt and a pair of his wife’s knickers stuffed in his mouth. Suspicion immediately falls on Saul, a paranoid schizophrenic found covered in blood at the crime scene, but is he really the killer or is DS Weston’s past clouding his judgement?
What separates the series out is its grubby, fly-on-the-wall filming style. The dialogue is part improvisational – the cast working from a detailed document rather than a traditional script – and this gives exchanges an exciting air of unpredictability as the performers react to swiftly changing circumstances. Such rapid-fire delivery of information not only livens up what could be stodgy exposition, it also makes the plot more difficult to follow, which is exactly how you would imagine a real police investigation to be.
Throw in lighting that appears to be sourced exclusively from anaemic desk lamps, and the squeaks and rumbles of a passing Underground train drowning out the actors’ voices, and the line between fiction and reality blurs one step closer.
Despite the potential for the series’ fast-paced editing style and absence of a script to be a barrier to connecting with these characters, such is the brilliance of the performances here that their personalities still shine through. Fey Ripley gives a controlled, level-headed performance as experienced investigator DCI Bellamy, Damien Maloney’s Jack Weston is a blunt-but-driven sergeant, and Clare-Hope Ashitey cuts an earnest and frustrated figure as wide-eyed rookie DC Charlie Steele.
Meanwhile, Dominic Power (Emmerdale) is the pick of the week’s guest performers (Eastenders’s Charlie Brooks and In The Flesh’s Luke Newberry also appear), perfectly underplaying a confused, agitated suspect who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.
Although the fast-paced editing style at times becomes a distraction, the director seemingly afraid of sticking with the shot for more than a few seconds lest things start to look a bit boring, Suspects continues to be one of the most original and unsettlingly believable dramas in recent memory. It’s gritty, off-the-cuff style hauling the police procedural into the 21st Century world of scripted-reality.
Click here to watch the trailer for Suspects