The trouble with the format popular among British dramas — a scant number of episodes, standing alone or else subject to years’-long hiatuses between installments — is that fans are bound to be left wanting more. But for everyone who felt a hankering for more propulsive counterterrorism drama after the recent Netflix import “Bodyguard,” with its relatively meager six episodes, can be comforted by Amazon’s “Informer.” Like “Bodyguard,” it’s been brought over from a first airing in the U.K. (where it played on the BBC), and like that show, too, it foregrounds a transporting, granular depiction of contemporary London. While it’s at times glutted with incident and could use a bit less complication and a bit more springy tension, it still makes for a compelling and, finally, rewarding binge.
The story begins with a crystalline moment of horror, as a pair of Londoners’ seeming meet-cute is interrupted by an act of terror. We then flash back to an earlier time, though not one whose connection to that violence is clear; there are endless narrative turns between the story’s outset and the climactic horror. Young Raza Shar (Nabhaan Rizwan), an appealing screen presence with a sweet smile and an unfortunate ability to get caught up in mischief, is arrested for drug possession in the show’s early going. He’s recruited as a source within London’s underworld by Gabe Waters (Paddy Considine), a cop whose interest in Raza is less as fellow human in a law-enforcement struggle than as a tool he can use until his value is exhausted. Raza’s growing struggle to meet the onerous demands of his new role plays against Gabe’s own percolating trauma from years undercover, and against the landscape of a bustling East London landscape rife with both melting-pot diversity and racial tensions. It’s a landscape that, more often than not, feels compellingly, vibrantly real.
That “more often than not” accounts for moments in which the landing isn’t quite stuck; “Informer” pushes Raza so deep into the city’s darker side that certain interactions can feel less-than-credible. And while Bel Powley does her best to save a part that’s both twitchily crammed with tics and a tad underwritten, her cop character never manages to compel as much as her partner on the beat, played by Considine. Between that, certain plot twists that push credulity, and a zealously committed score, viewers may end “Informer” feeling like, contrary to the show’s British-ly tight six-episode run, there’s been a bit more free-floating manic energy than had been strictly required.
But, more than most, this is a show that rewards giving oneself over to its general mood if not its story in every particular. “Informer” is propulsive and boasts two leads, Rizwan and Considine, at the peak of their abilities; it’s every bit an exciting answer to the American crime procedural, shows that themselves are not credible in every moment but that build out moods of rich possibility. Throughout “Informer,” one feels just about anything could happen to its characters. This show’s heedless willingness to embrace narrative risk means more than its occasional wrong steps, and makes for an experience well worth trying.
“Informer.” Jan. 11. 60 mins. Six episodes (all watched for review).
Cast: Paddy Considine, Nabhaan Rizwan, Bel Powley, Jessica Raine, Sunetra, Sarker, Reiss Jeram, Paul Tylak, Sharon D. Clarke, Roger Jean Nsengiyumva, Mim Shaikh, Stanley Townsend, Arsher Ali, Arinzé Kene, Nell Hudson
Created and written by: Rory Haines, Sohrab Noshirvani
Directed by: Jonny Campbell