CAUTION: Since this series has already been released, this review contains spoilers from the first hour. It does not spill anything past that, as the reviewer has not yet watched any further.
Netflix’s newest drama, MARCELLA, is actually a British series that is just getting its stateside release through the streaming service. Like many crime dramas from the UK, it has a small number of episodes, is relatively slow-paced, and the protagonist is kind of a mess, her chaotic personal life bleeding over into the case and vice versa. With mixed reviews, is MARCELLA worth checking out?
First, the good stuff. There is a pretty strong ensemble, each with their own little subplots that are certainly building towards a bigger whole. Of particular note are siblings Henry (Harry Lloyd, Game of Thrones, Manhattan) and Grace Gibson (Maeve Demody, Serangoon Road), who rebel against their step-mother, Sylvie (Sinead Cusack, V for Vendetta). Sylvie is a greedy Trump-type mogul, married to an age-inappropriate piece of arm candy, and out to screw over whoever she can to make the most money. Perhaps not as bombastic as the presidential candidate, preferring to exert power in subtler ways and exuding a friendliness until you cross her, Sylvie is just as self-centered and ruthless, definitely putting her business interests ahead of her family.
Besides the novelty of seeing a female in such a role, which is very much appreciated, there is also a depth to this clan. Henry cares deeply about the environment and helping people, but he won’t fight on his step-mother’s level, so his war is over before it’s begun. This has me wondering what his purpose is in MARCELLA, and I look forward to finding out. Grace, on the other hand, tries to make peace in her family, sticking by step-mom, but fighting for her brother’s cause. At first, this makes her seem like a good person. But then, when we see her with the titular character’s husband (Nicholas Pinnock, Fortitude), who happens to work for the company, it changes my opinion of her. She is a pleaser to the point of ignoring what she wants and what is right, also making her weak.
I am much more interested in the Gibson family than the central character and plot. As such, I hope there’s a lot of them moving forward, and I assume they will somehow be connected to the serial killer story, directly or indirectly, allowing them plenty of story.
So, now for the not-so-complimentary part of this article. I do not like Marcella herself. My problem isn’t really with Anna Friel, whom I adored in Pushing Daisies. Instead, it’s the totally unrealistic way in which her role is presented. She’s a stalker detective who gets extremely violent and has blackouts. Yet, somehow she is allowed to work for law enforcement, even after a many years’ absence, with little oversight and complete trust. What the heck?
There is a scene in the first hour in which her boss (Ray Panthaki, EastEnders) is encouraged to be even more lenient with Marcella by (secretly blind and deaf?) co-worker and old friend, Laura (Nina Sosanya, Last Tango in Halifax). Look, I get that Marcella has proven herself in the past, despite failing to catch the big serial killer who has suddenly shown back up at a pivotal moment in Marcella’s life, but isn’t anyone going to make sure she’s up to returning to work? Or question her when she acts strangely? It just doesn’t feel right to me.
Despite how much I hated Marcella’s story, I did end up liking MARCELLA. There’s enough going on that any single plot that isn’t working can be minimized and overlooked, even that of the title character. Were MARCELLA more focused on Marcella, I wouldn’t keep watching. But since it has balance, I likely will eventually see what else is in store for the rest of the intriguing cast.
MARCELLA’s first season is available now on Netflix.