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Suspicion - Review - A Very English Scandal

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Let me tell you something right now: British TV thrillers rock. Moody, blue-toned and brimming with plot twists, British mysteries have tact and wit and intrigue in places where American mysteries lean toward viscerality and stoicism. From Sherlock to Broadchurch to Bodyguard and everything in-between, the English know how to put together a bloody good thriller.

A few times a year or so, I get a hankering to spend a weekend with a cup of tea in hand, soaking in another pleasantly eerie mystery show from across the pond. English thrillers all have a weirdly homey vibe - cozy, but in a murder-y way. That's why, when I once again felt the itch for a good mystery show, I turned to Apple TV+’s new Suspicion, about a group of ordinary Brits who are accused of kidnapping the son of an American ad exec who is gunning for an ambassadorial position. It had all the promise of the dour, delicious English mystery I craved, and like a cherry on top, one of the stars is the endlessly talented Elizabeth Henstridge, formerly of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fame, who I quite literally would follow to the ends of the earth.

In some ways, if you, too, enjoy the occasional dip into this extremely specific genre, Suspicion is for you. And it also isn’t. I enjoyed it, but wouldn't necessarily reccomend it to a friend. It was decent, but not memorable...Honestly, it’s pretty 50/50 all the way around.

From it's opening scene, the show cuts straight to the point: American businesswoman Katherine Newman’s nomination as ambassador to the United Kingdom is interrupted by the kidnapping of her son, Leo, by a group of people in masks of the British royal family. The incident is caught on video, and that video quickly goes viral as a meme (in yet another woeful misrepresentation of internet culture by out-of-touch filmmakers). With their Big Brother-esque citywide camera system, and utilizing investigative methods so glossed over they resemble an Instagram influencer’s lips, the London police identify 5 suspects, including down-on-his-luck computer hacker Aadesh Chopra (Kunal Nayyar), bride-to-be Natalie Thompson (Georgina Campbell) and Oxford professor Tara McAllister (Elizabeth Henstridge). Rounding out the group are Sean Tilson (Elyes Gabel) and Eddie Walker (Tom Rhys Harries), both enigmatic in their own ways.

In its first episode, Suspicion has a more diverse fleshing out of characters than your average thriller. The first episode sets up an interesting premise seen from a unique point of view, offering the possibility to explore the idea that in a high-profile, high-stakes criminal case, there can be many kinds of victims other than the actual victim themselves. In fact, we hear very little about or from Leo Newman for the majority of the show, letting his story be told by the people working to figure out what happened to him. Our central characters, too, have promise conceptually. Then problem, then, is that the first episode’s promise deflates minute-by-minute afterward, bouncing from half-concieved thought to thought, refusing to let the mystery plot breathe and leaving the characters as the mere outlines of people they started out as. The most frustrating part of the whole affair is that the characters are almost interesting, the plot almost engaging, and the story almost meaningful. But then, ultimately, it’s not, really.

Additionally, the kidnapping/conspiracy portion of the plot - which I guess technically quialifies as the actual plot - feels like it’s from an entirely different world than the scenes where the accused fivesome try to escape from law enforcement. Ridiculously repetitive and boring, it’s honestly jarring when the pieces come into place, and this plot featuring Newman and co. actually meets up with the plot of the accused.

Generally, the biggest problem with Suspicion is its utter lack of commitment to anything interesting whatsoever. Even its eleventh-hour plot twists - of which there are multiple - seem both unearned and unshocking. After several episodes of relative dredge, we learn that the goal of the kidnapping was to bring the world’s attention to Newman’s shady dealings on behalf of her clients, more specifically, tarnishing the name of a well-respected professor who published a report predicting the devastations of climate change back when they were more easily preventable. Before you wonder if this show will insert itself into real life politics, fear not - the plot is not revenge for the planet but for the professor, who so happens to be Tara’s father.

That’s right, Tara co-ordinated with Leo and his friends to stage the kidnapping in order to expose Katherine and publicly clear Tara’s father’s name. We find out from there that Natalie and Aadesh had been framed by Tara, Sean was a hired gun meant to lead the suspects to Newman, and Walker was an undercover cop, and all’s well that ends well enough, I guess? Obviously, there were essentially no clues to any of this throughout the entire show, making it a twist with no real stakes, but it at least paints an interesting portrait in the end of the complex webs of secrets that children and parents keep from one another just to maintain the illusion that everything’s OK. If only those ideas had been more evenly woven throughout the show, perhaps the rest of the narrative would’ve been more promising. The show's ending - ambiguous as to whether it wants to be a set-up for a future season or not - doesn't leave much of a taste but is just interesting enough to elicit a "hmm," so if you're a fan of being half-engaged in your TV shows, Suspicion might be worth a try.

If you’ve got a day or two to blow off, Suspicion is a quick, comfy binge. In all, it's unique and engaging enough, but if you doze off or go and do something else with it playing in the background, there’s nothing really crucial for you to miss. I wouldn’t call it excellent, but it’s not bad by any means, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do - no matter how forgettably. And so, it’ll do to fill the British mystery-sized hole in my heart for now, or so I suppose.

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