cracker.jpg"Cracker" was the short-lived American adaptation of the popular British series starring Robbie Coltraine. The Jimmy McGovern-created BBC series told the tale of a flawed, deeply-damaged forensic psychiatrist dealing with the decay of his family and his gambling and alcoholism while helping to solve difficult cases.

The American version featured "Murphey Brown" alumnus Robert Pastorelli as the titualar suspect-breaker, Dr. Gerry Fitzgerald (modified from the British "Eddie Fitzgerald"), better known to all as "Fitz".

Pastorelli excels playing the very damaged and bitter drunk, gambling away the family funds while dealing with a wife, teenage son and daughter, and unplanned newborn baby. He veers wildly back and forth from hollow human being on the verge of self-destruction to a driven man with a gift to understand the human mind. And he uses the brute force of his intellect to tear down everyone around him.

The better moments of "Cracker" come in the rebuilding of episodes from the British series, but the real joy is not in the plot so much as the excellent performances put together for this series.

Though it is often criticized as inferior to the original, I have always found the American version to be a brighter, more humorous, lighter affair, but it trims away the fat from the exceptionally long UK episodes to create lean 1-hour stories that may strip away some nuance but leaves nothing but the best meat to chew on and the best scenes to watch and leaving behind the bleak and boring moments.

Far too early for its time, the show would play well today, as it possesses the qualities of many of today's most popular hits. For its time period, it featured an uncomfortable level of forensic accuracy and detail that would delight today's more "C.S.I."-centric audiences. And Fitz's brusque and caustic nature harkens to our Dr. House and his imitators, a sharp and flawed persona that undoubtedly struck a sour note with the audiences of 1997, who had no interest in the show, but would easily draw in audiences in this day and age.

A network could do worse than to try to resurrect this show yet again, though it would be called derivative and pointless today, though it birthed much of what you see on TV and is more intellectually pleasing, in either version, than anything on the air.

The episodes themselves are often acting tour de forces or real mindfucks, often both. If you're not drawn in by the end of the two-part first episode to the character and the dialogue, then you'll have no interest in watching further to see the excellent writing and the array of impressive cameos by then-unknowns, including the ditching of "Law & Order: SVU" star Mariska Hargitay after the pilot episode to be replaced by Angela Featherstone (not necessarily a bad move at the time).

I can't think of another dramatic series that I have so longed to see return to TV and hoped that, maybe someday, the networks would realize the terrible error they had made, brining it back to TV with the original cast... Until the moment Robert Pastorelli died.

The set of double-sided DVD's fits the 16 filmed episodes of the series onto four discs. The set may be inexpensive and a bit cheaply-made, but the series is not. Probably one of the best and most wrongly unacclaimed shows to appear on television in the past 20 years, at least the series finally has its moment to be seen and for Pastorelli's brilliant legacy to live on.

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