The new Disney Plus series “Culprits” opens with a seemingly innocent scene that instantly warms the heart: Joe Petras (portrayed by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett from “Misfits”) imparting a heartfelt message to his step-kids. The touching school drop-off is a snapshot of simple joy, with their grins lighting up the screen, symbolizing the pure familial bond. “Be you,” he encourages, setting the tone for a show that’s as much about self-discovery as it is about suspense and thrills.
Yet, “Culprits” quickly strips away the facade of normalcy. We’re thrust back in time to witness Joe’s former life as David—a man with a sharp mind and sharper instincts, serving as a security detail in London’s murky underworld. It’s here that the duality of Joe’s existence begins to unfold, contrasting his current fatherly figure with his past life’s necessary brutality.
The Heist of a Lifetime
As we navigate through time, from ‘before’ to ‘then’ to ‘now’, we meet Dianne Harewood, played by Gemma Arterton of “Rogue Agent” fame. Dianne’s role as a criminal mastermind with an air of untouchable glamour brings together a crew for a heist of epic proportions. Offering a path to new identities and a future free from crime, she handpicks David for his ‘particular set of skills’ to serve as the muscle in her meticulously planned operation.
The Shadow of Danger
But the stakes are high, and the past has a way of catching up. Three years on, as Joe’s new life teeters on the brink of collapse, a chilling threat emerges. Ned Dennehy, known for “Peaky Blinders”, dons the mask of ‘Devil’—a relentless assassin with a penchant for theatrical brutality. His pursuit of the crew is merciless, a grim reminder that their old lives are never too far behind.
The Fine Line Between Dark and Light
While “Culprits” indulges in its share of dark, graphic content, it’s the sparing use of these moments that ensures they hit hard and leave a lasting impression. The show’s ability to blend shocking violence with everyday life exemplifies the delicate balancing act that creator J Blakeson, the mind behind “I Care A Lot“, excels at.
Hits and Misses
However, even the most riveting stories can stumble. A scene featuring Eddie Izzard is one such moment that promises much but delivers an unexpected shortfall. It’s not Izzard’s acting that’s at fault but rather a script that sometimes lacks the sharpness it reaches for. And while the heist genre asks for a suspension of disbelief, there are moments that jar, breaking the spell with details that feel overlooked rather than cleverly plotted.
The Heart of the Series
Despite some storytelling missteps, “Culprits” boasts undeniable strengths. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett’s performance anchors the show, infusing it with emotional depth as he fights to shield his family from the encroaching threat. His portrayal of a man torn between his past and present is compelling, resonating with viewers as he navigates the perilous intersection of his intertwined worlds.
The series also breaks new ground in its portrayal of Joe’s relationship with his fiancé, Jules (played by Kevin Vidal from “Workin’ Moms”). It’s a fresh take on the complexities of love, identity, and commitment, providing a richer narrative fabric that’s both engaging and thought-provoking.
Supporting Cast Shines
Niamh Algar’s ‘Specialist’, nicknamed ‘Psycho‘, is another character who brings a dynamic energy to the screen. Her ruthless efficiency and unexpected moments of tenderness, like a surprising woodland encounter, add layers to the narrative, creating a multifaceted character who is both formidable and relatable.
A Must-Watch, Despite Flaws
In the end, “Culprits” may not be a contender for the awards season, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a series that enthralls with its complex characters, expertly timed suspense, and the promise of communal, edge-of-your-seat viewing. J Blakeson’s touch is evident in the precision of the storytelling, and while it might not be flawless, “Culprits” is undeniably deserving of a spot on your watch list— for its thrills, its heart, and its unapologetic dive into the duality of life and crime.