Now that every month seems to bring the launch of a new streaming service, a perplexing trend has emerged: each platform debuts with a single standout original, but it usually isn’t the one executives have poured the most effort into making and promoting. Apple TV+ spent months hyping The Morning Show, with its all-star cast and timely premise; offbeat Dickinson turned out to be its true gem. HBO Max seemed to be banking on Love Life, a gimmicky Anna Kendrick rom-com, when Legendary—a wildly creative ballroom competition—ended up being the real draw.
The same is true of Peacock, which on July 15 became the last major streaming platform to launch for the foreseeable future. Brave New World, its shiny, expensive prestige sci-fi drama, is watchable enough if you don’t mind that it lobotomizes the classic novel it’s based on. Intelligence is a smartly written workplace comedy that, unfortunately, miscasts David Schwimmer in a role that feels as though it was written for Steve Carell. (If only he wasn’t wasting his flair for managerial awkwardness on Space Force.) But the only Peacock original I can wholeheartedly recommend is The Capture, a paranoid tech thriller imported from the BBC.
Callum Turner (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Emma.) earned a BAFTA nomination for his twitchy performance as Shaun Emery, a British soldier who was convicted of murder while deployed in Afghanistan, then exonerated when his hotshot human rights lawyer Hannah Roberts (Laura Haddock, Guardians of the Galaxy) reveals a flaw in video evidence of the killing. His first act as a free man is an impromptu trip to his young daughter’s school, where his ex (Sophia Brown of Giri/Haji) reminds him that he’s not supposed to see the girl until the next day. That night, at a party celebrating his release, Shaun bristles at coarse jokes from his old working-class buddies—who he doesn’t seem particularly excited to see—and confesses to Hannah that he wants to end their professional relationship so he can ask her out. He walks her to a bus stop, they kiss, she hops onto one of London’s famous red double-deckers and he heads home.
At least, that’s what Shaun remembers. A worker (played by My Mad Fat Diary star Sharon Rooney) monitoring CCTV footage sees something very different: after the kiss, instead of depositing Hannah on the bus, Shaun beats her before dragging her out of the frame. With law enforcement alerted and Hannah missing, he’s back in the government’s crosshairs. It’s up to Rachel Carey (Holliday Grainger of Patrick Melrose, serving stiff-upper-lip realness) an ambitious detective inspector who has just transferred from counter-terrorism to homicide, in an obligatory stepping stone on her path to security-state success, to figure out what happened. On one hand, live surveillance footage seems pretty airtight. Plus, Shaun has a violent temper, and his private doubts about what happened in Afghanistan make him question the trustworthiness of his own memory. Then again, video manipulation technology sure is advancing rapidly.
The six-episode series moves at the breathless pace of 2018’s hit BBC/Netflix thriller Bodyguard, and there are hints of Homeland in a premise that has a female investigator trying to suss out a traumatized male soldier’s hard-to-read motivations. But on a thematic level, The Capture reminded me most of The Conversation, its surveillance anxiety updated for a contemporary world in the grips of social media hoaxes, the uncanny bottomless pit of deepfakes and other “fake news”—not to mention real news dismissed by self-interested authorities as fake news—where the notion of objective reality is under constant attack. Creator, writer and director Ben Chanan (The Missing) wisely complicates the story with an awareness of how class divisions feed tensions among an alphabet soup of British agencies. The show’s casting choices force the never-more-relevant question of whether the supposed adults in the room really have society’s best interests in mind.
The Capture doesn’t quite deliver the seamless resolution its first five episodes deserve. In its final minutes, an egregiously expository flurry of dialogue makes an apt yet glib connection to American politics—one that might have worked if it had been threaded more naturally into the plot. Still, this is the rare thriller that is not just smart and gripping, but also deeply engaged with our bizarre, often terrifying present. And it’s easily the best original show you’ll find on Peacock.