Possibly the starkest, darkest, popular drama series to have emerge from a British Television company since the classic Edge of Darkness, Granada Television's Cracker was an instant success.
Created by the talented Jimmy McGovern, the series presented us with the deeply flawed central character of Eddie Fitzgerald, a hard drinking, chain-smoking, compulsively gambling, but brilliant psychologist employed by the Greater Manchester Police to act as a profiler in criminal investigations of the most brutal and horrific nature. Under McGovern and fellow Cracker writer Paul Abbot's expert scripting, the dark and seedy underbelly of the Northwest was exposed to the cynically insightful gaze of Fitz's almost Sherlockian intellect in a series of complex, intelligent stories, which drew the viewers into a psychological cesspool of unrestrained psychosis and violent aberration.
As brilliantly acted as it was written, directed and produced, the series benefited from a subtly brilliant central performance from Scottish comedian/actor Robbie Coltrane, whose natural charisma imbued what could have been an appallingly unappealing central character into an almost tragic romantic hero, without glossing over Fitz's almost wilfully self-destructive tendencies. Equally as excellent was a supporting cast which included Barbara Flynn as Judith, Fitz's long suffering wife, Christopher Eccleston, as Det Chief Inspector David Bilborough. Other characters of note were Bilborough's replacement, Det Chief Insp. Wise played by Ricky Tomlinson, and Det Sgt Jimmy Beck, a dark and venomous character who went on to savagely rape and almost murder, Det Sgt Jane Penhaligon, Fitz's Watson surrogate and on-off love interest, played by delicately attractive and gifted, Geraldine Somerville.
To ensure that the series was as authentic as possible within the bounds of dramatic licence, the maker's Granada brought in the expert services of psychologist Ian Stephen, who helped police track down the notorious serial killer Bible John in 1969, as technical adviser.
The success of Cracker was such that it near single-handedly reinvigorated the entire genre of the psychological thriller series for British television. The format was sold to US television where a number of the stories were remade under the title of Fitz. But given the strict dictates of US Network policies, much of the power, brutality and sheer strength of the original's were fatally lost in the translation.
Cracker might have been uncomfortable, uncompromising, sometimes harrowing viewing. But it was also unquestionably quality drama of the highest order. It succeeded in forcing its viewers to think, feel and ponder the darkness which lurks deep within us all. A secret which the majority of modern drama series seem to have sadly forgotten.
Published on December 5th, 2018. Written by SRH (2000) for Television Heaven.