The gimmick behind Cinemax’s newest series “Rellik” is an intriguing concept at first glance, but ultimately lacks coherence and conviction. As a crime drama told in complete reverse-chronology, the series attempts to expose not only the who, but the why behind a string of London-based acid attack murders. With all the more motive to track down the serial killer, Detective Chief Investigator Gabriel Markham (Richard Dormer, “Game of Thrones”) spearheads the case, his own face covered in acid burns from a close encounter with the attacker.
Because the series is told backwards, the premiere episode actually plays out more like a finale — with the capture and eventual death of the alleged perpetrator. Yet if the plot’s ending could be that easily tied up, there would be no need to continue the show. It’s clear that there must be more twists, turns, and possible suspects involved in this story.
While oftentimes a big risk in TV pays off with big reward, the structural risk that “Rellik” takes doesn’t warrant much success. The reverse, intermittent storytelling makes it crucial to pay attention to every tiny detail and time jump — which proves to be a difficult task when the premise and central characters of the show are largely unoriginal and unconvincing. Some may find it enjoyable to have to piece together the inverse mystery themselves, but frustration sinks in when you realize you’re working so hard only to not be gratified through a nonlinear storyline. Almost every aspect of “Rellik” — from its title (‘killer’ spelled backwards) to the annoyingly long montages of rain falling upwards instead of down from the sky — is too over-exaggerated an effort to be considered innovative.
In a fairly large cast, with the indication of more secondary characters to be introduced along the way, Gabriel appears to be the only one with some real depth and an arc that will develop over all six episodes. Not only is he being targeted by a ravaging acid-attacker, but his personal life is pretty messy and chaotic as well. We see his steamy interactions with his detective partner Elaine Shepard (Jodi Balfour, “The Crown”), but as the premiere goes on (or backtracks, that is), we also get a glimpse of Gabriel having a wife and teenage daughter at home. It’s not exactly the most inventive thread ever woven into a crime show, but this double life should make for a dramatic subplot and add some excitement to an otherwise bleak series.
With its overuse of gray backdrops, “Rellik” is not only visually gloomy throughout, but its premise is also undeniably dark and twisted. Staying in line with the customary depressive and drab nature of British dramas, “Rellik” does not skimp out on gore, violence and psychological terror. From the vivid shooting of the suspected serial killer early on in the premiere, to the disturbing burn scars mangling the victims to a point of un-identifiability, “Rellik” is packed with unsettling images. All of this generated malaise presumably has a greater philosophical purpose, working to make us question even further what could drive a human to act with such evil disregard.
However ingenious the reverse format of “Rellik” sounds on paper, the convoluted narrative and underlying feeling of dullness in the premiere hold the series back from reaching its intended potential. With such confusion after only one episode, “Rellik” is trying way too hard to stand out and shake up the convention of the murder mystery genre.