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Apple’s drama tackles racism in police ranks

A police detective in London is asked by his boss to listen to a tape of an emergency call regarding alleged domestic violence. This is more of a formality than anything else; The caller refused to give his name or other identifying information. But she relays information that catches the detective’s attention: Her abusive boyfriend told her that he killed his previous girlfriend years ago, and now another man is serving a prison sentence for that crime. Then she screams and the line goes dead.

This call will spell the end for many of the cops on Apple TV+’s police procedural “Mug Record.” Cush Jumbo stars as June Lenker, a detective who thinks the allegations are worth investigating, while Peter Capaldi plays Daniel Hegarty, the older, more senior detective who originally worked the case and is now using every trick in the book to disprove June’s questions. Could there be a wrongful conviction? “I don’t want to embarrass you,” Daniel says smugly, “but all of a sudden one of the callers said/said, not giving names – frankly, it’s starting to feel like a joke at this point.” Behind his back, he and his cronies follow him as a struggling, ambitious hire. They ignore it as money.

Most organizations, whether public or private, are designed to discourage people from asking too many questions that challenge the status quo—especially if the questioner is a woman of color. Systems, no matter how immoral or dysfunctional, are there for protection.

This is what June is facing. Some of the corruption stems from pressure from higher-ups to close a case quickly. Some of it stems from petulant, deeply opinionated bigotry. Similar themes were at the forefront of Steve McQueen’s “Red, White and Blue,” one of the films in his 2020 “Small Axe” compilation, starring John Boyega as a cop who quickly gives up on any ideas that could possibly change from within. But most British crime shows present a more idealized version of events; of a diverse police force where racism is not much of a factor in the workplace. The long-running crime series “Vera” comes to mind, not only because Jumbo starred for several seasons, but also because “Criminal Record” creators Paul Rutman and Elaine Collins (who is married to Capaldi) are “Vera.” . ” is also a graduate. They take a different approach here, which makes the show stand out.

U.S. audiences may know Jumbo better from “The Good Fight.” Capaldi is best known for “Doctor Who” and “The Thick of It” and together they make a riveting duo. There isn’t enough story or tension here to justify its eight-episode length – like many other streaming shows, it would have worked better as a movie – but Jumbo and Capaldi’s performances are reason enough to watch. His face is open, revealing the racing thoughts within him. His face is covered to better hide his secrets, but not his disdain.

June and Daniel are wary and distrustful of each other, constantly on edge and trying to figure out how to weaken their rivals. There is integrity on his side but little institutional support. While her colleagues give her the benefit of the doubt, her cadre of equally dirty underlings do everything possible to muddy the waters of June’s investigation. However, the two have some things in common, including their personal lives, which are reflected in their business lives. Both worry about their children – one of Daniel’s men racially profiles his teenage son to better scare him; Meanwhile, he has his hands full as the single father of a drug-addicted daughter who sees through his harsh bluster.

When it finally arrives, the solution is unsatisfactory. After eight episodes, it becomes clear how weak the series is. This is probably closer to real life than most of us hope. Even if the outcome is in favor of justice, the Daniels of the world remain firmly in place.

“Criminal Record” — 2 stars (out of 4)

Where to watch: AppleTV+

Starring Cush Jumbo "Criminal record."

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic

nmetz@chicagotribune.com

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