Suspicion, review: Uma Thurman and co manage to impress in this wholly unoriginal kidnap drama
It was nearly two years ago that Apple TV+ announced that they were remaking the excellent Israeli drama False Flag as Suspicion. Now it’s here you can see why there’s been such a long delay: Apple’s version is predicated on jetsetting. It tells the story of the abduction of the son of a prominent American businesswoman (Uma Thurman), which takes place in a fancy New York hotel; the kidnap is captured on video and the footage of the boy being stuffed in to a suitcase quickly goes viral.
But the four suspects are all British with each of them having flown over to New York separately for a meeting, a conference or a hen party. This was a neat idea in early 2020, but a completely ludicrous one two years later, now that all major international travel takes place on Zoom.
Anyway, Apple has waited and waited until the idea of everyone flying back and forth across the Atlantic is just about potable again and now, finally, Suspicion has been let out of quarantine. And if it isn’t a show you need to put straight on your must-see list, it does stand as an exemplar of everything that’s good – and bad – about big-league streaming TV in 2021.
What’s good: the casting. Among other things, Fortune 500 money buys A-grade actors and Suspicion is dripping with them, from The Big Bang Theory's Kunal Nayyar to the wonderful Noah Emmerich to a proper scene-stealer from Angel Coulby as the Brit in charge of the London investigation.
Also good: the thriller plot. The did-they-or-didn’t-they in which your four seemingly disparate Brits hailing from Southall to Oxford go from random punters to suspects is as well constructed as a Swiss chronograph. No one is quite who they seem and their secrets are drip-fed like a form of narrative S&M ritual. Suspicion is taut and tense and machine-tooled to make you want more.
Unfortunately, things that are machine-tooled are by definition identical, and Suspicion is also exceedingly good at breaking no new ground whatsoever. Homeland, Channel 4’s Chimerica, Damages and even 24 poked at similar nerve clusters, in which everyone is tracking everyone, the CIA and the FBI and MI5 are all a bit chippy with one another, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If you believe the whole “there’s only seven types of story” thing then presumably this wouldn’t be a problem, but when a murderous conspiracy at the highest level prompts the reaction “jeez, not another one” then something’s gone awry.
Perhaps the greatest irony, though is that Suspicion, a series made by Apple, is undermined by the proliferation of screens and devices throughout. Not product placement – though there’s plenty of that – but by the simple fact that phones and computers are the thriller writer’s worst enemy.
When the answer to the question of “whodunit?” is “let’s just check the phone records and see” then 90 per cent of a storyteller’s traditional tools are rendered redundant. Likewise, people staring at screens the whole time (which, admittedly, is probably all that espionage is in the 21st century) is inherently undramatic.
I haven’t seen a TV series based around cyber-espionage and infosec that solves this one yet, but thankfully it doesn’t sink Suspicion altogether because the characterisation is strong and the mystery holds. Still, the problem for writers remains the same as the problem for fretting parents – what to do about all that screentime.