The four-part mini-series each lasting one hour debuted last week on Netflix. I watched it because the premise seemed interesting and it had good actors. It features Stanley Tucci as a criminologist who brutally murdered his wife and is now on death row in the US. But it turns out that he has powerful analytical skills and a superior knowledge of human psychology and this enables his to solve crimes even while in prison. The prison warden allows people to consult him on unsolved cases. A fellow death row inmate in the adjacent cell happens to have an almost perfect memory and accompanies him during these interviews to serve as a recorder. David Tennant is a vicar in the UK dealing with a troubled verger in his church. (A verger is someone who serves as a caretaker and attendant in the church, assisting the vicar in his duties.) Although the vicar and the convict never meet, their stories become intertwined because a British journalist visits Tucci to try and get him to solve the disappearance of someone the journalist knows who happens to be the mathematics tutor to Tennant’s son.
When I started watching, I was a little uneasy when I saw that the writer of the series was Stephen Moffat. Moffat was the co-creator and co-writer of the hit series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, with the setting being current day England. As I said in my reviews of that show, that series started off well but went off the rails, becoming increasingly preposterous as it went on, resulting in wildly improbable plot lines. It was as if the writers were trying to constantly astonish the viewer with plot twists and simply got carried away. I hoped Moffat would resist that temptation this time. No such luck. He was even worse.
Moffat’s talent seems to lie in creating interesting characters and dialogue and in this series he again does so but then he loses the plot. Literally, in this case. This has to be one of the most absurd storylines ever. The idea of a freelance British journalist consulting an American death row inmate to try and find about someone she does not know all that well and who has been missing only for a couple of days is the first sign that this story may not make much sense. Why does she not first go to the UK police? But it gets even worse
Moffat’s storyline requires almost all of the characters to act in ways that no ordinary, reasonable human being would do, allowing misunderstandings to grow, multiply, and escalate when a simple conversation would have set things straight. It is acceptable for dramatic purposes when one person or perhaps two people do very stupid things, thus complicating the lives of all around them. But when pretty much everyone does so, that is a sign of lazy plotting.
As a result, as the predicament of the vicar, his wife, son, and the math tutor becomes ever more dire, my reaction was one of irritation that it was all their own fault. I did not feel the empathy that I think I was expected to feel. Tennant’s vicar’s behavior is particularly ridiculous and I felt sorry that an actor of his calibre was playing such a silly role. The scenes with Tucci and his cell mate were the only ones that I could watch without getting irritated, and their conversational exchanges were funny.
What a waste of talent.
Here’s the trailer.