By Dave B.
Collateral (Netflix/BBC) is a 4-episode miniseries described by Netflix as a show about a detective uncovering “a tangled conspiracy involving drug dealers, smugglers, and spies”. In reality, it is an English police procedural drama with a straightforward “conspiracy”, no mystery, and few thrills. Despite the misleading description, Collateral is pretty good for what it actually is.
For starters, the acting in Collateral is good across the board. The cast is experienced and fit their roles well. Likewise, the writing is better than anything that viewers will find in American police dramas. The dialogue is natural and everyone felt real instead of symbolic or representative, and that was very refreshing, especially considering the fairly diverse cast. Further, the writing and direction were done skillfully enough that the tragic elements of the show felt raw instead of contrived. If Collateral had pitched itself as and stayed true to what it is (a police procedural), I would have liked it even more. Unfortunately, it did not.
Social commentary is a big part of Collateral, and while that in and of itself is not a negative, it was often done in an obvious and heavy-handed way. It’s messages about refugees, immigrants, and migrants come through clear and are well-done. But when the show gets into issues such as social welfare, same-sex relations among the clergy (Anglican Church if you are not familiar with British religious history), or the English class system, the messages that Collateral wants to convey lack any semblance of subtlety and tend to muddle the plot. This causes the show to feel bloated at times. In truth, if it had been more focused, Collateral could have been an entire episode shorter and the better for it.
If you are a fan of police dramas, I definitely recommend Collateral. It’s the type of show that would have failed as an American drama due to our penchant for tidy, completely satisfying and sanitized endings. Collateral viscerally feels real in a way that American audiences are likely to find compelling. That said, for those who are not fans of police dramas, Collateral may not be able to hold your interest for long as it is not a mystery nor a thriller, and it’s potential to be universally compelling is watered-down by it’s desire to touch on every social topic that it can in four hours. 6.5/10