1 out of 5
Created by: Bill Gallagher
Impressive! I’ve rarely known a show to clonk out so drastically from grabbing to god-awful! Paranoid might rate a little better if it was consistently bad – like, setting low expectations from the start – but it instead damns itself by being competent and interesting as it kicks off, with impressively immersive camera work and some great cast additions… and then very much just plummets off a damn cliff. There are so many intriguing details presented up front that go very much nowhere – they are just distraction – and the same ends up being true for character traits that initially seemed relevant to the plot, but aren’t. At all. This mystique is dispelled almost all at once, making it harder to ignore what feels like a lack of research behind its procedural elements, and easier to roll one’s eyes at the detectives who’ve apparently never come across the central conspiracy that’s been a conspiracy in every single book and movie and TV show ever with a similar antagonist; that is: once the antagonist is given a “face,” giant DUH alarm bells start ringing, but the cops are still running around asking each other What It All Means.
A pleasant day in the park, and a hooded man runs up and brutally stabs a mother in front of her child. A man with mental issues in the neighborhood is soon fingered as the culprit, but the actual proof is lacking. Soon, our cops assigned to the case – Bobby (Robert Glenister), Nina (Indira Varma), and Alec (Dino Fetscher) – start receiving cryptic clues about the matter from an unknown source. This source has also been going around interviewing people and posing as a cop, so they dub them ‘the ghost detective.” This appellations butts up against some other curiosities, such as Bobby’s seeming sixth sense about being watched at crime scenes, witness Lucy’s (Lesley Sharp) mindfulness giving her full recall of singular details, a creepy psychiatrist with the last name Crowley (Michael Maloney), and a doting mother who apparently is a compulsive liar. Bundled with the show’s name, we are potentially leaning toward spooky territory, which is supported by director Mark Tonderai’s moody staging of scenes.
…But even Tonderai’s gifts start to get squandered once some of the above concepts unspool from their tightly-wound and plot-bound sensibilities to be just loose, scattershot blips in the script. This happens right around when the ghost detective’s identity is revealed without approximately zero ceremony: it’s a thudding “that’s it?” moment, and the answer to that question is: yes, and for the remaining 5 or 6 episodes as well. To coincide with that, Tonderai steps aside for other directors, who are surely capable, they just handle their eps in much more traditional manners that, again, don’t distract from the lesser-than qualities.
Sharp and Varma remain watchable throughout, as does assisting Dusseldorf detective Linda, played by Christiane Paul, but they each have horrible character arcs that waste their actresses abilities on either go-nowhere or go-silly or go-shameful trajectories, with that latter one being in reference to Varma’s character being written off as hysterical and boy crazy, for no reason other than to insert some unneeded romance angle into the story. This seems to match writer Bill Gallagher’s general approach, in which bold questions are posed just to sound bold (they are not answered or given much thought thereafter), or dated generalisms are applied, like a semi-running thread about medication being bad… though that also falls into the pile of topics that are brought up and then kicked aside once it’s convenient to go chasing some idiot red herring for a few minutes.
A lot of these faults are certainly not exclusive to Paranoid, but they stick out a hell of a lot more because of how well the first couple of episodes land, and how immediately things shift gear to tedium.