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Suspect review: James Nesbitt goes toe-to-toe with starry line-up

The Channel 4 thriller takes the unusual and sometimes confusing route of pairing detective Danny (James Nesbitt) with a new suspect per episode.

James Nesbitt in Suspect
Channel 4 / Laurence Cendrowicz
Published: Saturday, 18th June 2022 at 9:00 am
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A star rating of 3 out of 5.

Channel 4 thriller Suspect, starring James Nesbitt, is an unusual watch – that is, if you can make it past the show's title sequence.

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It's a soapy, retro-feeling introduction to each character as one-by-one they stare moodily into the camera lens, lit by flashing coloured lights. Are they judges on The X Factor? Are they Formula One drivers self-consciously posing for this season's opening titles? It's all very cringe-inducing.

If you do make it past the show's bizarre titles (which air at the start of each episode, so buckle up), you'll find that Suspect is an unexpected watch, likewise soapy, confusing and repetitive at times, and less like a traditional crime drama than a collection of short duologues, with a different pairing each episode.

The series follows James Nesbitt's character Danny, a grumpy detective with a difficult home life (by now an all-too-familiar trope in crime dramas) who attends a routine ID check on a young woman’s body – only to discover it's his estranged daughter, Christina, who has apparently died by suicide.

Starting from episode 1, when Danny lashes out at the unwitting pathologist Jackie, the series follows him as he attempts to solve his daughter's death, having quickly convinced himself that Christina was in fact murdered.

Danny goes toe-to-toe with a new 'suspect' per episode (including the likes of Richard E Grant and Sam Heughan in the cast), even when they're not suspects at all, but just someone caught in the crossfire of Danny's grief-stricken rage and incomprehension.

The first episode is particularly effective, partly because of the devastating moment when Danny first recognises his daughter (it's a prolonged sequence, but works well), and partly because of the chemistry between him and the pathologist Jackie (Joely Richardson).

At one point, he locks Jackie in the morgue until she recounts exactly how his estranged daughter died. But with scalpel-sharp precision, she quickly pinpoints the real, underlying issue.

"You let her down, is that it?" she asks, coolly.

"What?" he replies, his voice suddenly childlike, all his anger wiped away in a moment and replaced with something like guilt.

Suspect (Jackie)
Jackie in Suspect Channel 4

The next instalment sees Danny meet Nicola, the daughter-in-law he didn't know he had. The episode feels more uneven than the first, despite its tantalising drip-feed of information about Danny's fractious relationship with his daughter.

It's the quieter moments that are more impactful. When Danny and Nicola share a cigarette, he deadpans: "I don't really smoke."

Nicola laughs: "That's what you always say," and Danny turns to her, at once delighted and heartbroken by the knowledge that Christina had spoken fondly about him at least once before she died.

Viewers expecting a more traditional crime thriller may well be thrown off by the theatrical feel of the series format, with a new pairing of actors each episode.

But the show's central whodunnit and the short episode lengths (around 20 minutes each) both work in its favour, as does the fact it's released as a box-set, meaning that – if you can get past that bizarre title sequence – you're sure to race through the entire season.

Suspect will air as a double bill on Sunday 19th June at 9pm and 9:30pm on Channel 4, before being released as a box-set on All4 at midnight. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.

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