Mystery fans tend to like their heroes fallible--gumshoes like Phillip Marlowe, DCI Jane Tennyson, and Dave Robicheaux have all been guilty of moral lapses in the course of righting larger wrongs. But it's hard to imagine a protagonist less saintly than Dr. Eddie Fitzgerald, a forensic psychologist based in northern England--his thirst for alcohol and gambling are surpassed only by his arrogance and famous temper. As played by the incomparable Robbie Coltrane, Fitz is so overbearing and rigid in his beliefs he can be a little hard to take, yet his innate brilliance at solving crimes and his essential goodness--that admittedly can seem all but buried under his bristly exterior--keep the viewer engaged and rooting for him.
These episodes, from the series produced by Granada TV and aired in the U.S. by A&E, are among its finest. The Mad Woman in the Attic (directed by Welcome to Sarajevo's Michael Winterbottom) traces the case of a soft-spoken man with that hoariest of television ailments, amnesia, after having jumped (or was he pushed?) from a moving train upon which a young woman was horrifically slashed to death. Fitz must determine if the suspect is innocent or playing deadly mind games. The Cable Ace-winning To Say I Love You finds Fitz on the trail of a neo-Bonnie-and-Clyde couple on a murderous rampage across the British countryside. And One Day a Lemming Will Fly features a teen suicide that turns out to be murder, and Fitz must battle a complacent police force as much as he does the elusive criminal. For crime fans, Cracker is indispensable and is an impressive reminder of what television can achieve when it sets its sights high enough. --Anne Hurley