You’d expect a police show about a criminal psychologist to feature some deeply sensitive soul who, because of his deep insight into human nature, solves crimes while sitting in a book-lined office. Maybe that’s how it would be if the show were set in Los Angeles or somewhere else removed from reality, but Manchester, England is a dirty, industrial city, far removed from the glamourous life of London, let alone California. No book-lined office dwelling toff is going to cut it in this city.
Enter Dr. Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald. He’s overbearing, opinionated, egocentric, with drinking and gambling problems suggesting a need for some serious psychological help, and a questionable faithfulness to his marriage bed. This makes him the most unlikely and unlovable of lead characters to grace television screens within recent memory. In spite of his foibles, or perhaps because of them, “Fitz” ruled TV screens in Britain as the lead character in the police drama, Cracker, from 1993-1995.
While Robbie Coltrane is best known now for his role as the loveable giant, Hagrid, in the Harry Potter series, he achieved close to iconic status for his performances in the lead role of Cracker. For three years he stalked the streets of Manchester helping the police solve brutal crime with a combination of bluster, intelligence, and sheer balls that was a beauty to behold. Along the way we’d also get to watch him play with fire in his personal relationships with his wife, children, and occasional lovers on the side.
For those of you who loved to hate (or hated to love) “Fitz” the first time round, and those who somehow missed out and want to see Robbie Coltrane in a completely different light, you’re in luck. The Complete Cracker, from the good folk at the Arts & Entertainment Network, contains not only all three seasons (a total of nine discs), but it also includes the television movie A New Kind Of Terror, released ten years after the original show went off the air.
From the first moment we meet Dr. Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald, we know we’re not going to be dealing with your standard police detective. While Manchester’s finest are trying to figure out who has been butchering young women on British Rail, “Fitz” has been running up tabs at the bookies, overdrawing the bank accounts, and burning out the credit cards. At the opening of “Mad Woman In The Attic,” he sunk so low as to try and hit up his eleven-year-old daughter for money to pay for a cab ride.
Just to make sure we have the full picture, he insults friends over dinner to the extent that one of them throws her glass of wine in his face, and when his credit card is declined, they end up footing the bill. I doubt anybody watching blamed his wife for leaving him.
Where “Fitz” fails in his personal life, he soars in his professional. He has a brilliant mind, is an impassioned and inspiring teacher, and his understanding of human nature (aside from his own of course) is almost preternaturally scary. Although unwilling to make use of his talents at first, “Fitz” volunteers his services in “Mad Woman In The Attic” because one of the victims was a former student. The Manchester police begin to rely on his expertise when faced with cases that call for insights into the darker workings of the human mind.
As a result, the cases we work on with “Fitz” over the years aren’t the most pleasant: serial killings of women, serial rapists, pedophilia, and all the other crimes that exist in the darker recesses of the human soul. While some of the references to events in the past might be lost on North American audiences (the Hillsborough disaster for instance in the 1980s, where 90-some people died watching a soccer match in Liverpool when the stands collapsed), and the language might get confusing at time with it’s wealth of British slang, neither should be a deterrent to an audience’s appreciation. All of us can relate to the horror and repulsion of the police in having to deal with what they consider the scum of the earth, and “Fitz’s” desire to solve the crimes.
As if it weren’t enough that these are brilliantly acted by everybody from the guest actors playing villains, (look for a young Robert Carlyle of Full Monty fame in the episode “To Be A Somebody”) to the regulars in the roll of police officers, and “Fitz’s” beleaguered family, the scripts aren’t your standard who-dunnit fare. Each episode is spread over three fifty-minute installments, which means there’s plenty of time for sub-plots to be explored and developed along with the main story line.
The writers aren’t just content with solving the crimes either, as the scripts question both the methods used by police and their objectives. In “One Day A Lemming Will Fly” they expose how the police will cynically go for results rather than worry themselves too much about justice.
This isn’t your typical blast the copper show though; it’s more an attack on a system (especially a media that demands police “do something about crime”) than on the police themselves. You get the feeling the police have their hands pretty much tied by circumstances and they do the best they can in the situation. Individually, the cops are shown as human beings doing a job that, quite frankly, brings them face-to-face with the worst humanity has to offer. It’s bound to have an effect on the way they see the world.
The Complete Cracker comes with each season in a self contained box with three DVDs, and Cracker: A New Terror, the feature length show, in it’s own case. With Dolby Surround Sound and Wide Screen pictures, they play beautifully on all regular DVD equipment and look and sound great. Included with A New Terror is a forty-five minute making-of featurette that is about the whole series. It takes you through all the characters who ever appeared and gives you all the background you need on the show’s creation.
Dr. Eddie “Fitz” Fitzgerald is not your regular police series hero, and Cracker was not your regular television police drama. If you’re looking for something intelligent with doses of biting humour and insights into human behaviour that you wouldn’t normally see, this is the show for you. Cracker was probably the finest police show ever televised on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, and is not something to be missed. You can pick up a copy of The Complete Cracker at the Arts & Entertainment web site.