“Paranoid,” an ITV show now available on Netflix, opens like an episode of “House,” “Bones” or “Law and Order.” It begins with an idyllic scene in a playground; children are playing in the sandbox, parents are laughing and one woman is sitting on a park bench alone, blonde tendrils of hair gently blowing in the wind, watching a mother push her toddler on a swing. A man enters the frame, wearing a sweatshirt pulled close over his hunched shoulders, his face hidden by the hood. The air seems to stiffen as he walks towards the mother, hands in his pockets. Before anyone can predict his actions, he grabs her and stabs her several times. The woman sitting on the park bench runs forward and pulls the child out of the swing to protect him, but the man runs away after leaving his victim lying in a pool of blood under the swings. Opening credits roll.
However, unlike “House,” “Bones” or “Law and Order: SVU,” the pilot of “Paranoid” is awful enough to merit refusing it a second chance. It’s boring, kitschy and full of cliches that aren’t even executed well. It’s overly filtered, and the score matches the overdone aesthetic.
The plot follows a group of detectives who try to solve the whodunit, but they quickly realize it is not as simple as they thought it would be. There’s a schizophrenic suspect with OCD who is later found dead himself, framed as a murder-suicide situation. The detectives receive anonymous notes in boxes with photographs that say things like “You have no idea what you’re up against” and “Look into Angela’s past.” To quote Miranda Priestly: groundbreaking.
The worst part of “Paranoid,” besides the hackneyed plot and the score, is the writing for the three main detectives, The first is a grizzled old cop, Bobby Day (Robert Glenister, “Hustle”) who questions the blonde woman, Lucy (Lesley Sharp, “The Full Monty”) his hands shaking slightly as he tries to write down her answers. She looks at him without blinking a second longer than is comfortable, smiles beatifically and then offers advice on how to deal with panic attacks. He cuts her down immediately, embarrassed that she’s spotted his weakness. Lucy blinks and moves on. (I seem to remember seeing a lot of pointed blinking in the pilot. Whether they were attempting to make a point about non-verbal communication or I was just bored enough to be paying special attention to eyelids is up for debate.)
Lucy is constantly wearing soft smiles to indicate that she always knows what’s best for people. I’m still rather confused as to her role in the plot.
Indira Varma (“Game of Thrones”) plays Nina, the second main detective, and is blessed with the opportunity to deliver this line: “I’m 38 years old. I’m childless. My arse is starting to sag. And the flake that I thought was going to marry me has given me the shove.” It was bizarrely reminiscent of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” which made me upset that I was watching this and not “Bridget Jones’s Diary.”
Later on, after mulling over how said flake (her boyfriend of a few years) had dumped her in front of the third detective (Dino Fetscher, “Now You See Me 2”), Nina mutters “Why am I so buttoned up,” and then kisses him. The second they break apart and he opens his mouth, perhaps to say “Where did that trite piece of dialogue come from?” she shakes her head and tells him to forget it. Fetscher’s confused face never changes throughout the episode.
Most of the pilot is taken up by trying to track down people who are connected with the victim’s past. It ends with a possible key suspect’s body facedown in a swimming pool, and another box delivered to Bobby. Inside is a DVD of footage of himself and another photograph — this one edgily scribbled on with black Sharpie — and a sinister message. This would’ve been an interesting way to end the pilot and convince someone to watch the next episode if that someone hadn’t seen the same cliffhanger in several other episodes of several other TV shows. The pilot ends after 40-something minutes of failing to make you care about any of the characters. The only good thing I got out of it was a reminder to watch “Bridget Jones’s Diary” again.