Cracker was a crime drama series produced by Granada Television for ITV. It was created and principally written by Jimmy McGovern. Set in Manchester, the series follows a criminal psychologist (or “cracker”), Dr Edward “Fitz” Fitzgerald, played by Robbie Coltrane, who works with the Greater Manchester Police to help them solve crimes. The show consists of three series which were originally aired from 1993 to 1995. A 100-minute special set in Hong Kong followed in 1996 and another two-hour story in 2006. In 2000, the series was ranked 39 on the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes compiled by the British Film Institute.
Fitz is a classic antihero: alcoholic, a chain smoker, obese, sedentary, addicted to gambling, manic, foul-mouthed, and sarcastic yet cerebral and brilliant. He is a genius in his speciality: criminal psychology. As Fitz confesses in “Brotherly Love”: “I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much.”
Each case spanned several episodes and cliff-hangers were quite often used, but it was not until the end of the second series that a cliff-hanger was employed to tie off the series. Some of the plotlines in the cases took as their starting point real events such as the Hillsborough disaster, while others were purely fictional with only tangential ties to actual events.
Several different psychotic types were explored during the run of the show with increasingly complex psychological motivations that, as the series entered the middle of the second series, began to expand beyond the criminals being investigated to the regular cast members. As the series moved forward the storylines became as much about the interactions of the regulars as it was about the crimes. In many later episodes, in fact, the crimes often became background to intense, provocative explorations of the police officers’ reactions to the crimes they investigated.
To emphasise how fine a line the police (and Fitz) walk in their close association with criminals, all three series featured several stories in which the police become victims of crime or themselves commit criminal acts like rape, obstruction of justice and assault and battery.
Cracker storylines often begin by showing the crime being committed, a format popularised by Columbo. Both series feature a lead character who solves crimes while masking an intelligent, perceptive nature behind a slobbish exterior, a debt acknowledged by Cracker creator Jimmy McGovern; Fitz delivers his summing-up in “To Say I Love You” while doing a Peter Falk impression.
Cracker’s conception was also partly a reaction against the police procedural approach of fellow Granada crime serial Prime Suspect, placing more emphasis on emotional and psychological truth than on correct police procedure. In an interview with the NME, McGovern dismissed Prime Suspect, noting that “Good TV writing has narrative simplicity and emotional complexity,” and characterising the series as “A narratively complex story going up its own arse.” Gub Neal, who produced the first series of Cracker, is quoted as saying, “That we had adopted the right approach was confirmed for me when Jacky Malton, the senior woman police officer who advised on Prime Suspect, said that although the way things happened in Cracker was sometimes highly improbable, the relationships between the police were in many ways much more credible than they had been in Prime Suspect.”
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