Collateral is a BBC miniseries now streaming on Netflix starring Carey Mulligan, and all four hour long episodes are written by David Hare, who previously wrote The Hours and The Reader. It’s a complicated procedural drama about a pizza delivery man who was murdered on a street corner, the cops who investigate the murder, the politics that play into the reaction to the murder, and the conspiracy surrounding his death that unfolds over time.
There’s actually even more to it than that. There are a lot of moving pieces in this series, and you don’t really start to catch up or tie any threads together until the final hour, so this requires you to really stick with it, assuming you don’t lose interest first. I have to admit, I’m normally into all kinds of crime procedurals, but this one was a bit of a challenge. When trying to tie this whole political conspiracy together, it wants to be comparative to a David Simon series (think The Wire), but it doesn’t quite measure up. Even on Simon’s shows, there are characters whose personal dramas require audience investment, and this one tries to do that as well, but the characters aren’t all that compelling.
Collateral stars Carey Mulligan, but the truth is that she’s part of a large ensemble cast and her Detective Kip Giaspie doesn’t quite take over as the lead until the final hour. Investing in a lot of extraneous characters besides her tough, smart cop feels a bit pointless and no other performance stands out much except perhaps John Simm (above), as a disillusioned Labor party MP. There’s a storyline involving a female priest (Nicola Walker) that felt particularly irrelevant to the proceedings overall, with no real payoff. It could be that the length of the series doesn’t allow for in depth character growth or for the audience to get involved enough in these people’s lives, but some measure of attachment is necessary in these types of shows, even if the central mystery is the selling point. Even Giaspie herself remains something of a cipher (I think the only thing we know about her is that she sympathizes with immigrants and that remains her one personality trait throughout the show).
I don’t know if this is intended to be an ongoing series or a one off, but I can’t say that I’m all that interested either way. There are some timely messages about the current immigration politics in Britain, it touches on sexual harassment and the effect of trauma on damaged lives and it does do one thing that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen onscreen before, and that’s to explore the psychology of a female killer, which is rare and interesting. But overall, I’d say next time (if there is one) give the actors some juicier characters to work with.