The opening of ITV’s ridiculously twisty new thriller is pretty darn dramatic. Psychologist Joe O’Loughlin (Aidan ‘Poldark’ Turner) is yanked out of a hospital consultation to talk a suicidal cancer patient off a window ledge. “But he’s got Parkinson’s!” yells O’Loughlin’s friend and neurologist Jack (Adam James), skidding into the room in time to see Joe, his fingers suddenly trembling, execute the kind of stunt more commonly seen in a Bond film.
The rescue makes Joe – already a bestselling media personality with a beautiful, loving wife and daughter – a tabloid hero. He’s too good to be true: caring, intelligent, with big-DILF energy and a lustrously jutting beard. He’s even asked by his private practice colleague (Sian Clifford, adding a bit of Fleabag-style acid) to take her up the aisle. Naturally, things are about to go wrong for him. And it begins, as it so often does in TV thrillers, with a brutally murdered woman.
An unidentified young female is found in a shallow grave in a north London cemetery with 21 fresh stab wounds as well as historic self-harm scars on her body. Somehow Joe ends up advising detectives Ruiz and Devi (Shaun Parkes as the rumpled superior, Anjli Mohindra as the tough but incidentally gorgeous sidekick) about the case. Until they begin to wonder if he knows more than he’s letting on…
Adapted by Peter Berry from James Robotham’s novel, the scripts have a bad case of exposition and flirt regularly with cliché. “You spend your whole day talking through other people’s problems,” says Joe’s wife Julianne (Camilla Beeput). “We need to make space for our own.” It’s elevated somewhat by a cool metafictional tone, enabling the writer to wink knowingly at common thriller tropes: the world-weariness of murder detectives; the assumption that a murdered girl must be a sex worker; the patient of Joe’s whose obsessive behaviour echoes the killer’s MO.
The cinematography is superior, too: directors James Strong and Camilla Strøm Henriksen clearly love London and give us lots of ravishing views of the Shard, St Pancras Station, and odd brutalist parts of the capital, as well as some stunning aerial shots of Liverpool. And Suspect has a far better cast than it really deserves. Turner gives an understated performance which makes the character’s sudden reverse-ferrets more surprising, and he subtly suggests the physical symptoms and emotional cost of Parkinson’s (the show employed an expert advisor).
Beeput is impressive as Joe’s bewildered wife, Parkes impressively straight-faced as Ruiz. There are five episodes of this, and I’m pretty sure I worked out who the baddie was halfway through the first. It’s from the producers of Vigil but doesn’t have that show’s bonkers brilliance, or the hard gloss of Berry’s last TV venture, Gangs of London. But it’s diverting enough, and I imagine Turner’s beard will develop a fervent online following to rival that of his Poldark six-pack.
The Suspect is streaming on ITV on Mondays at 9pm
Note: an earlier version of this review misidentified the character Julianne, played by Camilla Beeput, as Melinda, played by Angela Griffin, an error for which we unreservedly apologise