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Lesley Sharp plays Lucy, the only eyewitness for the murder that triggers a gripping series of events in Paranoid, now streaming on Netflix.
Lesley Sharp plays Lucy, the only eyewitness for the murder that triggers a gripping series of events in Paranoid, now streaming on Netflix.

John Doyle: Looking for an escape? Paranoid is an ideal Brit-cop binge-watch Add to ...

On these cold, grey days, I know what you want. You want a good British thriller to binge-watch. I know what many of you are like – I’m aware of your tastes and inclinations.

Paranoid (now streaming on Netflix) is good, not brilliant, but it’s an excellent distraction. Cops who aren’t handsome, beautiful people with great hair. Some are even sad-sack middle-aged chaps with issues they don’t want to talk about. One of the main characters is a 38-year-old female police officer whose boyfriend of many years dumps her in Episode 1. She’s got a few things to say. At work, too. A speech she makes includes the declaration, “I’m 38 years old, my arse is starting to sag.”

There are times when Paranoid – it’s actually a British/German co-production – feels like an upmarket Coronation Street, and times when it reaches for more – a conspiracy-theory drama about dark corporate maneuvres. What makes it truly interesting is the ordinariness of the cops, and the villain at the heart of the eight-part series. The latter would be our old friend, Big Pharma.

Things open in a kids’ playground on a pleasant fall morning in the small fictional town of Marshwell. Local family doctor Angela Benton is playing with her three-year-old son, Luke, on the swing. A man in a hoodie walks up and stabs her to death. The best witness to the murder is Lucy (Lesley Sharp), who saw the hooded figure arriving but didn’t see his face. She’s also the one who grabbed the victim’s son for safety. There something odd about Lucy, though. She’s incredibly calm about everything.

Events unfold in a predictable manner for a while. A suspect, a local man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia with a history of violent outbursts, is sought. His home reveals erratic behaviour. Then, he’s found dead, a possible suicide. Case closed.

But with another seven episodes to come, nothing can be closed. The cops in Marshwell discover that a “ghost” cop has also been investigating the case. People interviewed say, “That other detective talked to me last night.” Of course, the detectives know nothing about the other cop. Somebody sends videos to the police station with statements such as, “You don’t know what you’re up against.” Then, when the former husband of the murder victim needs to be informed, things get twisted. The man, long gone from the victim’s life, lives in Dusseldorf, Germany. A cheery German officer is sent to find him and, well, discovers him dead and floating in a swimming pool. As soon as you get a handle on the dead man’s job you can figure where this thriller is going.

Paranoid is far from being at the level of River or Happy Valley. What it does have going for it is its slow-burning depiction of the British cops whose ordinary, messy lives are put under great strain by this one murder case.

That slow pace of revelation and character development remains a strength of British productions. Recently, I caught up with two U.S. network thrillers, The Blacklist and Blindspot, and I was reminded again how much time is taken up with elaborate shootout scenes, car chases and people screaming. Here, in Paranoid, the deepest mystery is anchored in the main characters.

Indira Varma (from Game of Thrones) is excellent as the brittle, angry, motormouth Detective Nina Suresh, the woman dumped by her boyfriend. “But I want kids,” she shouts at his retreating, shrugging back, to no avail. Senior cop Bobby Day (Robert Glenister) is secretly suffering panic attacks and violent headaches that he hides, and none of his colleagues seem to notice. The only one who recognizes his suffering is that witness to the murder, Lucy. Naturally, Det. Suresh supposes, wrongly, that the two of them are up to something.

There is great pleasure in watching these characters – none of them striking or charismatic – reveal themselves in all their ordinary neuroses and doubts. Time passes and not much happens apart from somebody becoming even more introverted. Yes, there’s at least one murder and hints of a conspiracy that emanates from the dark heart of pharma corporations in Germany. But the meat of the drama is slow-cooked and satisfying.

Paranoid is ideal escapism if you want a good British thriller to binge-watch. I know what many of you are like. No need to be paranoid. I just do.

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Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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