Follow TV Tropes


Series / Cracker

Go To
"I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much."
—Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald

This British Crime and Punishment Series was originally broadcast in the "Television Serial" format (also used for, e.g., Doctor Who before 1996). The main character, Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald, played by Robbie Coltrane, was a psychologist who did profiling for the Manchester police force. Of course, he usually ended up confronting the criminal and solving the crime solo (though a few times he makes the situation a whole lot worse). Aside from his grouchy, misanthropic demeanour, he was massively overweight and addicted to alcohol, tobacco and gambling. In his spare time, he also enjoyed a bit of UST with his sidekick, Jane "Panhandle" Penhaligon.

There have been 10 stories, originally transmitted as two or three episodes each. There is considerable continuity from one story to the next (unusual in Television Serial format shows) and watching them out of sequence would be inadvisable. An 11th, stand-alone episode was aired in 2006.


There was a sanitised U.S. remake in which the main character was fairly slender, drank moderate amounts of wine and lived in a spacious, airy apartment.

Not to be confused with The Cracker, who is a computer criminal or the British Comic Cracker.

Provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Several of the criminals are victims of these
  • Anti-Hero: Fitz and Beck could also count at first
  • Anyone Can Die: DCI Bilborough and DS James Beck
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Stuart Grady in Best Boys. Implied with Beck in a few episodes; at the very least, he's certainly insecure.
  • Asshole Victim: Several including a loan shark, a homophobe and a ruthless journalist
  • Attempted Rape: Floyd Malcolm attempts to rape Judith
  • Awful Wedded Life: Abounds, given the genre. Fitz and Judith are the most obvious example. Also, the Franklins from Best Boys, so much so that DCI Wise initially thinks Mr Franklin is the murderer. Speaking of which, Wise's own marriage is not exactly a bed of roses, though he seems to be happier than his wife. Averted by Bilborough, who is Happily Married.
  • Advertisement:
  • Author Tract: There's some political elements, like the deranged, homeless Falklands veteran, and much Margaret Thatcher-bashing, read with a certain easy authenticity by "Red Robbie" Coltrane. Fitz's occasional invective against religion comes off this way, too.
  • Be as Unhelpful as Possible
  • Berserk Button: Bilborough and his family, as tragically evinced in To Be a Somebody, but children in general seem a sore point. In One Day a Lemming Will Fly, even Beck thinks Bilborough goes too far browbeating a witness who didn't come forward sooner.
  • Burn Baby Burn: Jane Penhaligon burns her clothes after she's been raped, causing Fitz (who's unaware of the reason) to quip that burning a bra is "a bit too Sixties."
  • Byronic Hero: And how!
  • Captain Obvious. Penhaligon storms out of her superior's office after being turned down for a promotion, and when Fitz greets her as 'Panhandle' screams "IT'S PENHALIGON YOU FAT, STUPID BASTARD!" Expert psychologist that he is, Fitz concludes that she is upset.
  • *Click* Hello: When Panhandle breaks into Beck's house and waits for him.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Sean Kerrigan over his girlfriend Tina.
  • Crime Reconstruction: In Men Should Weep
  • Dark and Troubled Past: All the guilty suspects have one of these. Actually, most of the innocent ones do too, and so do the police officers. Fitz' speciality is finding out about them.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Fitz and Wise most frequently. Penhaligon too, on occasion.
  • Defective Detective: And how!. Fitz, an overweight chain-smoking alcoholic adulterer with a gambling addiction.
    Fitz: I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much.
    • The actual detectives aren't necessarily that psychologically well-adjusted either.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?. Penhaligon and Fitz enter the station and everyone somehow knows they've finally done it. Eventually Beck breaks the tension by asking "Who was on top?"
  • Dirty Harriet: Penhaligon in Brotherly Love
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • One Day A Lemming Will Fly: The prime suspect seemingly tries to kill himself due to anguish over the victim's death (though Fitz implies that it was actually a cry for help).
    • Brotherly Love: DS Jimmy Beck. He throws himself off a tall building after being overwhelmed by self-loathing from DCI Bilborough's death and his raping of DS Penhaligon.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Whenever Fitz pulls one of his Jerk Ass stunts on Panhandle, she likes to get back at him by driving extremely fast, while enjoying the expression on Fitz's face instead of looking at the road.
    • Also, Judith: "I like doing 60!"
  • Dying Moment of Awesome:
    • Billborough, having been fatally stabbed, gives a precise and detailed description of assailant.
    • Beck gets a confession from the handcuffing himself to the killer and leaping off a ten storey block of flats with him.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first serial is a straightforward whodunnit story; the first two have little focus on the character interactions and social commentary that became the show's hallmark. Besides Fitz, the cast are fairly one-dimensional, and the plots pretty conventional. One Day a Lemming Will Fly marked the show's point of departure.
  • Express Lane Limit: One episode had Fitz get into an argument with a cashier while trying to use the express. His argument was that he technically only had two items (larger and some kind of junk food): he just just had multiple examples of each item.
  • Faith–Heel Turn: The Big Crunch. Fitz believes the leader of the Christian sect lost his faith and became angry at the meaninglessness of the universe.
  • False Confession: Cassidy in One Day A Lemming Will Fly
  • Famed In-Story: Fitz has his own radio show, and it is known publicly that he helps the police with murder investigations. In one episode the Chief Super tells Fitz they mainly keep him around for good publicity.
  • Food Slap: Fitz finally convinces Penhaligon to go out with him, only to take her to the same restaurant his estranged wife has taken her date in order to show her up. While the two are arguing, Penhaligon can be heard asking the waiter for a jug of water, which she calmly pours over Fitz's head before walking out.
    Fitz: (dripping wet) Anglo-Saxon foreplay.
  • Football, Pop Music, and Flat Caps: Set in Manchester with very strong local flavour.
  • Forensic Drama
  • Foster Kid: Bill Nash in Best Boys.
  • Freudian Excuse: Deconstructed. Most of the murderers are very damaged and shown some sympathy by Fitz but he also makes it clear to them that they are still responsible for their crimes.
  • Gayngst: One of the major themes of Best Boys.
  • Genius Slob: Fitz
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Played with and straight, depending on the circumstances. Fitz often performs both roles himself.
  • Hannibal Lecture: Played straight, by the suspects, and then immediately inverted as Fitz does his thing and zones in on the why.
  • Honey Trap: Tina from To Say I Love You and Janice from True Romance both use this trope to ensnare their victims.
  • Hypocritical Humor: One Day A Lemming Will Fly has a pompous coroner who upbraids Bilborough for supposed lack of professionalism... while dressed as Napoleon for a society ball. Neither Bilborough nor his colleagues are impressed:
    Coroner: He's been dead about 72 hours.
    Bilborough: Thank you.
    Coroner: [scoffing] And you're a DCI?
    Bilborough: [coldly polite] I knew it was a murder; I just wanted it confirmed and you've confirmed it. Thank you. *beat* You can get along to your party now.
  • Indirect Kiss: Fitz is briefing the detectives, one of whom makes an ignorant comment in his area of expertise. Fitz immediately jumps down the man's throat for this; but a few seconds before that same detective had passed a drink to Fitz's love interest DS Penhaligon, who drank from the bottle without wiping it first — just the kind of minor detail Fitz would notice.
  • Insufferable Genius: Fitz is considered to be a complete bastard by his workmates at Greater Manchester Police, and has zero respect among his academic peers. But he is also very, very, very good at profiling.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence
    Fitz: What is death, Panhandle?
    Penhaligon: The finest aphrodisiac in the world, Dr. Fitzgerald!
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Averted. DCI Bilborough specifically tells a suspect (in the murder of a fellow detective) that no-one is going to touch her in case it jeopardises her being sent to prison. DS Beck is bawled out by DCI Wise when he beats a suspect.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Fitz.
  • Jerk Ass Woobie: Most of the murderers, some of the Asshole Victims, Jimmy Beck and, arguably, Fitz himself
  • Karma Houdini: The killer in One Day A Lemming Wil Fly and possibly Kenneth Trant in The Big Crunch. David Harvey was on his way to being this in Brotherly Love. But Jimmy Beck had other ideas.
  • Kavorka Man: Fitz.
    • The sect leader/headmaster in The Big Crunch. It turns out that his cult is based on women and girls who are attracted to him.
  • Kick the Dog: Absolutely everyone at various points. Judith gets in an especially nasty one on Panhandle in True Romance.
  • Kick the Morality Pet: Fitz, not infrequently. Considering how hard he kicks, it's kind of an issue.
  • Killed Off for Real: Bilborough and Beck.
  • Kinky Cuffs: DCI Wise walks in on Fitz feeling up Penhaligon's legs while she's wearing her own handcuffs.
  • Left Hanging: In the episode "One Day A Lemming Will Fly", Fitz actually spends the entire episode pursuing the wrong man for the murder of a child. The episode's entire resolution hinges on the fact that the child's killer will never be known — at least, unless he strikes again... Probably deliberate to show that, no matter how brilliant Fitz is, he can still be dead wrong.
  • Madness Mantra: In To Be a Somebody, "L-I-V, E-R-P, Double-O L, Liverpool FC.". For non-Brits, this is a traditional chant of supporters of the Liverpool football (soccer) team.
    • The Big Crunch: "All flesh is grass. All flesh is grass."
    • The Madwoman in the Attic: Fitz proposes that the murderer was hearing "Kill the bitch. Kill the bitch." repeatedly to the sound of the train. When the real murderer is shown later on a train, he's repeating various phrases ("I'm too tired. I'm too tired. I'm too tired.") while staring at his intended victim.
  • Madonna–Whore Complex:
    • David Harvey in Brotherly Love provides an extreme example.
    • In "The New Terror", Fitz humiliates his daughter at her wedding by telling everyone about her long list of boyfriends. This is the daughter he's seen doting on in previous episodes when she was still a little girl.
  • Masochism - the pleasures of being hurt; the frisson of being self-destructive
  • Maternity Crisis: completely averted. Judith goes into labour just as she's about to be charged with speeding, which is convenient. She then gets a police escort to the hospital.
  • Mean Boss: The Chief Super. Doesn't like Bilborough, Wise or Fitz and frequently insults them (admittedly, not always without reason). Wise at least doesn't take it lying down.
  • Meaningful Echo: Bilborough and Beck both say: "This is evidence. This is a dying man's statement."
  • Mistaken for Gay: Played for laughs with Fitz and Beck in Brotherly Love. Depending on one's POV, One Day a Lemming Will Fly could be an episode-length exploration.
  • Morality Pet: Beck attempts to assuage his guilt over Bilborough's death by looking after his widow and son. In Brotherly Love though, he's rather cruelly let down.
  • Motive Rant: Several of the killers get in one of these.
  • Noble Bigot with a Badge: DS Jimmy Beck. Becomes significantly less noble as the series continues. But he manages to go out with a bit of it back. Sort of. Though even in the early days he is shown bullying and victimizing suspects some of whom are later shown to be innocent.
  • Not So Different: Alluded to in To Be A Somebody in the interrogation scene with Fitz and Albie. Unusually for this trope, Fitz is the one who points it out and Albie denies it. A rare case of the hero giving this point to the unwilling villain when it's usually the other way round. Though Fitz is only a hero in a narrow sense.
  • Oop North: Depending on your point of view it's either played straight (if you're a northerner) or averted (if you're a southerner and you think The North is terrible). Generally Manchester is shown to be pretty much as it is (or was at the time anyway). There's a mix of inner city deprivation with middle class banality. The rich and poor rub up against each other with the general kind of friction you might expect.
  • Open Mystery: To Say I Love You from the first series and every story from the next two, though Brotherly Love plays with it in three ways as it features three distinct criminals; the first murderer is played straight as we see him committing the crime; the second is also seen, but only during her second killing midway through the second episode, and the third is the rapist who attacked Penhaligon in the previous serial, whom Fitz and everyone else is sure is Jimmy Beck but who has been strenuously and convincingly denying it since the end of the last series, is never actually seen committing it, and whom the audience can never be quite sure is guilty, especially since Fitz has got it horribly wrong before, even though he's the obvious suspect. Turns out it really was him.
  • Parental Abandonment: A central part of Bill Nash's Dark and Troubled Past in Best Boys.
  • Pet the Dog: Subverted in an episode when a serial killer reveals to Fitz that he was going to drown a litter of kittens but decided not to because 'they hadn't done him any harm'. Fitz points out that none of the killer's victims had done him any harm either and that rather than making him sympathetic, the villain was just exhibiting 'sickening sentimentality'.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Claire Moody pleads like this to Albie Kinsella
  • Police Brutality: Jimmy Beck is guilty of this on multiple occasions.
  • The Profiler: Fitz is considered to be very, very good (albeit impossible to work with), but even then he is not always right.
  • Raised Catholic: Fitz and many others
  • Rape as Drama: In Men Should Weep
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: D.C.I. Wise.
  • Shown Their Work: The show had some of the most genuinely realistic portrayals of murders and how they happen, at least in the first part of the story, such as why a man might kill a shopkeeper or a prostitute. The handling of the police characters and their relationships also earned high praise from real officers as being pretty much spot-on, though later stories started to mess the detectives up maybe a bit too much. In general though, believable characterisation was this series strongest point. The real life bases of the series are covered in the book Cracker: The Truth Behind the Fiction (ISBN-10: 0752209744)
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Fitz loves to first play sympathetic to the criminals, and just when they start to relax explain in thorough detail why he loathes their guts. Especially notable in To Say "I Love You".
  • Shower of Angst: DS Penhaligon takes a bath after she's been raped, but makes sure to wrap her hand in plastic first to preserve evidence from when she scratched her attacker.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Janice
  • Stepford Smiler: Norma Trant in The Big Crunch, who is totally in denial about her husband's abuse of his community and professional roles: cheating on her with schoolgirls and parishioners, and murder.
  • Straight Gay: Stuart Grady in Best Boys.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Well, maybe not "To Death", but there's no better way to describe what it is Fitz does to the suspects. Almost done literally to DS Beck at one point.
  • Television Serial
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Albies stated motive in To Be a Somebody - "Treat people like scum and they start acting like scum!".
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Fitz frequently makes these to the murderers.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: One Day A Lemming Will Fly
  • Token Minority: DC Skelton initially comes off this way; his early appearances are brief, often overtly highlighting his race (Men Should Weep, most obviously). He transcends this in Season Three, where he's given a more prominent role.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: A double dose of it with both Judith and Penhaligon. Lampshaded by Judith, who points out in one episode that men think she's available, given the state of their marriage, and Fitz' looks. Panhandle does have certain 'father' issues which may explain it though. Even Fitz admits that he's probably a father substitute.
  • Walk and Talk: A notable one in One Day A Lemming Will Fly: Fitz and Penhaligon escort Cassidy through a shopping center (later joined by Beck), all the while probing his psyche, in a four minute single take.
  • Wicked Cultured: Albie in To Be a Somebody. Part of his motive; he resents being mistaken for an inarticulate hooligan when he's smart enough to identify a Bach piece from a few bars.
  • Your Cheating Heart:
    • Fitz and Judith are both adulterers. Judith is inclined to get rather sanctimonious about Fitz' adultery.
    • The adulterous behaviour of DC Giggs, Michael Trant and David Harvey are all significant plot points.


Example of: