Review: Cracked 1×1 (CBC)

The tolerant detectives who forget to be interesting


In Canada: Tuesdays, 9/9.30NT, CBC

Imagine a world where cops are armed but they never shoot anyone. Imagine a world where the mental ill are treated with respect, even when they kill people. Imagine a world where there’s an entire police unit dedicated to investigating crimes committed by the mentally ill so that they can be helped and treated.

No need to imagine. That world is Canada.


‘Inspired’ by real-life incidents, Cracked sees Canadian police officer Aidan Black (David Sutcliffe) get a touch of PTSD and start doing inappropriate chicken impressions. When he returns to work, still not quite right – ‘cracked’ even – he’s given a chance to help on the newly formed Psych Crimes Unit, where he’s to work with psychiatrist Daniella Ridley (Stefanie von Pfetten), another cop (Luisa D’Oliveira) and a psychiatric nurse (Dayo Ade) in helping to investigate crimes committed by the mentally ill, and then, using his unique insight and compassion, talk to them a lot.

And while on the one hand it’s a delight to have a show that doesn’t think banging everyone to rights or shooting them, particularly if they’re mentally ill, is a good idea, it doesn’t half expose the fact that for most drama, something has to happen for them to be interesting.

Here’s a trailer.

CRACKED is a unique blend of a police and medical drama inspired by the real-life experiences of police officers and mental-health professionals. The hour-long series is a bold depiction of the psychological side of policing and the emotional impact on front-line workers. It’s a fascinating yet affectionate exploration of all dimensions of human behavior.

CRACKED stars David Sutcliffe (Gilmore Girls, Private Practice) as Detective Aidan Black, a seasoned officer dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Stefanie von Pfetten (NCIS, Battlestar Galactica) as psychiatrist Dr. Daniella Ridley, who leaves her prominent position at a downtown hospital to partner with the police. Black and Ridley are the lead team in a newly formed Psych Crimes Unit where they are joined by Poppy Wisnefski, a young cop cynical beyond her years played by Luisa D’Oliveira, and a compassionate psychiatric nurse, Leo Beckett, played by Dayo Ade. Together they combine police investigative skills and psychiatric insight to resolve crises and solve crimes.

The series reflects the reality that an overwhelming percentage of police calls involve people with mental illnesses or psychiatric disorders – people who cross all ages, incomes and ethnicities. The Psych Crimes Unit struggles to achieve balance between protecting the public from harm and protecting the dignity of all citizens ¬often at the expense of their own mental health.

CRACKED is created by writer Tracey Forbes (Flashpoint, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Toronto Emergency Task Force officer Calum de Hartog and is produced by White Pine Pictures in association with the CBC.

Is it any good?
I’m guessing that if you’re the kind of person who likes Flashpoint, you’re going to love Cracked. Otherwise, stay away from this because it’s a real snoozefest.

Now, TV does have a reasonably good history of shows featuring mentally ill detectives: the US Touching Evil, featuring the brain-damaged, depressed David Creegan, is one of my favourite shows ever; Monk gave us an OCD detective; Cracker gave us someone with numerous addictions; Luthers just off his head; and the list goes on.

But all of those managed to make these detectives interesting and to give them interesting cases to solve. Cracked makes the classic mistake of being so understanding and tolerant, so unwilling to do anything of any real interest that it’s almost impossible to watch.

We have our central character who is ‘cracked’ – he has PTSD. Does that exhibit itself in violent behaviour or indeed any real trauma? Does he do ‘crazy’ things? No, because that would be interesting. Instead, he does a chicken impression in front of someone in a shop.

Gosh, how exciti… snore.

Then there’s the rest of his psych crimes unit. Lovely, diverse and professional they may all be, but that’s all they are. They have no actual personalities beyond their job descriptions and desire not to do anything nasty to mass murderers who have schizophrenia.

And while the plot of the first episode does at least give us a stream of murders, people behaving oddly, upset relatives and every possible opportunity for some drama to occur, nothing much does.

Indeed, the biggest point of comparison for this episode are the first two episodes of Touching Evil. The latter sees a by-the-book female detective partnered with a mentally ill male detective, more or less as per Cracked, yet her social skills and professionalism are used to give the show drama and conflict and to give her value beyond being a mere contrast with Creegan; Cracked gives us a very professional psychiatrist who uses psychiatry in her job… and that’s it. When the armed Creegan faces off against the killer in the second episode and puts down his gun to talk with her, this leads to one of the show’s most memorable scenes – his insanely dousing himself in petrol and taking a knock-out drug to win her trust; Cracked gives us an armed man talking to a guy with a knife, so he puts down the gun and then wins the guy’s trust. The scenes are very similar, but as with the rest of the show, at every possible opportunity, the least interesting option is chosen.

The show does occasionally have some moments worth watching, but they’re few and far between. The characters are dull, the mystery unengaging, there’s no action, no intrigue, no romance (despite the show’s best efforts with Black’s ex, also a cop), no chemistry or anything. The leads are spectacularly uncharismatic. It’s merely a ‘worthy’ show that’s trying to say something worthwhile about the mentally ill but that’s forgotten it needs to be a drama as well.

But then I said more or less the same thing about Flashpoint and look how long that lasted.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.