Have Corpse, Will 'Cracker'


When the psychological crime drama "Cracker" was in production in the U.K. from 1993-'96, the world was a different place. Terrorism by Islamic extremists was on the radar, but a lot of attention was also being paid to the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, which spilled over into bombings and other attacks in Britain.

Since 9/11, things have changed, and attention has shifted dramatically to parts of the world far from Belfast. But that doesn't mean that those affected by the bitter fight have simply faded away.

On Monday, Oct. 30, on BBC America, "Cracker" returns after a decade-long hiatus with "A New Terror," a feature-length episode that brings back Robbie Coltrane in the lead role of criminal psychologist Dr. Edward "Fitz" Fitzgerald, who uses his skills to "crack" cases.

Written by "Cracker" creator Jimmy McGovern ("The Street"), the story focuses on former British soldier Kenny (Anthony Flanagan), now a cop, who feels that the new War on Terror has eclipsed the suffering he and his buddies experienced in Northern Ireland.

He snaps and turns to murder, and his crime spree coincides with Fitz's return after 10 years in Australia to Manchester, England, for his daughter's wedding.

After years of digging into the criminal mind, Fitz has turned into an academic, along with swearing off some of his worst excesses (don't get too excited, he still drinks and smokes) and somewhat repairing his relationship with his wife, Judith (Barbara Flynn).

But, says Coltrane, "Fundamentally, he's not changed at all. He still wants to know why people behave appallingly, and he's still looking for a pure motive.

"My feeling was, when he was in Australia, he was kind of on his best behavior and slightly out of character. Can you imagine Fitz at a barbecue, in a suit, trying to keep out of the heat, with all these people in Spandex jumping up and down, going, 'No worries, mate.'

"The key to it is the opening scene, where he goes past the incident and the flashing lights are going, and Judith immediately knows, 'Oh, God.' Giddy at the smell of the corpse."

"Cracker" came out a couple of years after "The Silence of the Lambs," which lent a whole new cache to the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit and criminal profiling in general, but it predates such American series on the subject as "Profiler," "Millennium," ABC's version of "Cracker" and the current "Criminal Minds."

Asked what he thinks about the TV shows and movies on profiling since "Cracker," Coltrane says, "I think they're psychologically dishonest. I'm not going to name names, but 'Seven' was the one that came out that was pure 'Cracker.'

"But if you're asking why they don't get it right, once you put $100 million into a film, you want everyone to like the main character, even if that means being psychologically dishonest."

Surprisingly, Coltrane sees a bit of Fitz in a cranky, iconoclastic character who's more concerned with diagnosing diseases than catching crooks, but is coincidentally played by a man Coltrane once worked with in British comedy television -- Hugh Laurie of FOX's medical drama "House."

"'House' is very like 'Cracker,'" Coltrane says, "but he's unlikable in the name of a higher cause. He's noble. I don't think it's a compromise at all. There's a higher order in all these things, if I can sound all pompous."

Now that Fitz is back on British soil, at least for one episode, that raises the question about future new "Cracker" installments.

"I don't think I can do more," McGovern says, "because I haven't got the stories. But there's no reason we couldn't bring in other writers and work in much the same way as we worked on 'The Street.' I could be a lead writer and work with other writers.

"Talk to Robbie. If Robbie wants to do it, it'll get done. If Robbie doesn't want to do it, it won't get done. I'm well aware of my status."

But when the question is posed to him, Coltrane says, "You should talk to your man, there."

Reminded that "your man" said to talk to him, Coltrane laughs. "Well, that's what they call a symbiotic relationship. It's up to both of us, isn't it? We never rule it out, because after the first three seasons, everybody said, 'When, in God's name, are you leaving this?'

"Would we rule out doing it again? Absolutely not, if the right idea comes up. It has, and here we are. If the idea was right, and the script was right, both of us would be straight in there."

They're also not averse to the idea of Fitz working on a case in the U.S.

"That would be interesting, wouldn't it?" says Coltrane.

"I just wonder," McGovern says, "if it would be possible to get the up-and-coming writers, dangerous, f**ked-up people, to actually write it. We'd have to oversee everything, wouldn't we?"

"You'd be script editor," Coltrane says. "You'd sort it out. You'd get it right. I'm up for that."

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