NBCUniversal’s streaming service Peacock is borrowing prestige from across the Atlantic for its launch, airing the series “The Capture” after its debut on the U.K.’s BBC One. The series — a crime thriller that’s easily comprehensible but that has provocative ramifications — seems right on target for a service seeking content that can appeal broadly. With strong performances and an unabashed willingness to state its points plainly, “The Capture” suggests solid possibilities for Peacock as a space for shows that are brainier than can thrive on broadcast TV but still retain broadcast’s punch and verve.
“The Capture” starts with one alleged crime, veers into another, then announces the presence of a third overlaying the whole thing. Shaun Emery (Callum Turner), a veteran of the war in Afghanistan as a lance corporal in the British armed forces, is acquitted of murdering a prisoner of war. His getting off on a technicality — a flaw in the video evidence — comes to seem bitterly ironic as, at the end of a night celebrating the result, he is caught on closed-circuit security cameras assaulting his lawyer (Laura Haddock). Briefly freed thanks to security footage, Emery is now bound up by tape once more, even as he insists that what our eyes show us is not reality. A police detective inspector (Holliday Grainger) investigating the case eventually lands upon a conspiracy involving the creation of “deepfake” videos, digital replicas of crimes that never occurred.
What follows is a show that — like a deepfake itself — keeps the appearance of reality even as it depicts the seemingly impossible. Written and directed by Ben Chanan, the series has a “Bodyguard”-like ability to deliver thrilling reversals grounded in truths of characters and their situations. Grainger, a TV veteran (“Bonnie & Clyde,” “Patrick Melrose”), sells the grit of a detective as well as her abject confusion over the case’s unfamiliarity; Turner seems made to lead a series like this one, with enough bluff roguishness to suggest a figure under suspicion but with an underlying sweetness that keeps us on his side. At times, elements of the story involving the conspiracy itself — particularly the role of a U.S. intelligence officer played by Ron Perlman — can verge on too fanciful, but the momentum prevails.
What isn’t fanciful is the urgency of the show’s warning. Even if the way it is brought about is a bit choked with conspiracy tropes, deepfake videos are a reality, and not hard to imagine being brought into the lives of citizens in a society defined by surveillance. If one character’s lectures about the power of deepfake land heavily, then perhaps “The Capture” is doing what a mass-appeal show about a social crisis should do, in educating bluntly and with individuals who compel in part through their obviousness. “The public are content in their ignorance and a lot better off that way,” the character says. No longer: That anyone watching “The Capture” will likely find spurious those convictions obtained via video is the victory of this elegant little series.