What is your favorite television show about a British crime family that hides razor blades in their hats? Mine is probably Peaky Blinders. I guess that’s kind of a narrow category, though. Even if we broaden it out a little — to, say, “favorite show about a British crime family” or “favorite streaming crime show” — Peaky Blinders still ranks pretty high for me. It’s just so incredibly watchable and incredibly bingeable. I have discussed this a few times before, but with the fourth season debuting on Netflix in late-December and the lack of chatter about it I’m seeing from all the people I’ve tried to peer pressure into watching it, it appears that we need to have the discussion again. I will keep doing this as often as I need to. It’s that important to me. Lord knows I have the time. You would be unwise to test me on this.
The time has come to talk about Peaky Blinders.
1. Peaky Blinders is a show about a British criminal organization called, fittingly enough, the Peaky Blinders. The Peaky Blinders were in fact a real criminal organization that existed in the early 1900s and got their name from the aforementioned — probably fictional — story about their members hiding razor blades in their hats and using them to take out people’s eyes. On the show, the group is run by the Shelby family: brothers Tommy, Arthur, and John, and their Aunt Polly, with some other bit players scattered about and bubbling up as the show progresses. They are involved in gambling and bootlegging and other sorts of illicit ventures, and sometimes when they make a declaration in public one of them will tag it with “By order of the Peaky Blinders!” Sometimes I’m tempted to use this in my everyday life. “Yes, I would like a large pizza, two dozens wings, and an order of cheese fries… by order of the Peaky Blinders.” One day I will do it. It will be super weird.
2. The star of the series is Cillian Murphy, who plays Tommy, and who you definitely recognize from a bunch of things, including his role as Scarecrow in Batman Begins. He is very good in Peaky Blinders. Tommy is intense and cutthroat and always two or three steps ahead of whoever he is battling with at any given moment, which he always is, because Tommy Shelby is as much of an action junkie as one can be while also being very still and quiet like 90 percent of the time. He smokes cigarettes and drinks whiskey constantly, often during meetings in which he makes outrageous demands and/or seduces powerful women. He’s kind of like Don Draper crossed with Michael Corleone, but British and an expert at horses.
3. That Michael Corleone analogy actually works pretty well because there is a Godfather-type quality to the relationship between the brothers. Kind of. The twist is that John — the youngest — doesn’t really fit into the framework, but Arthur — the oldest — is both the hothead and the perpetual screw-up, making him somehow both the Sonny and the Fredo of the family. I have said this a few times now but it remains very true, multiple seasons later.
4. One of the complaints I’ve heard from people after I’ve recommended the show to them is that the accents are so thick — the show is produced by and for British television and comes to Netflix after each season is complete — that it can be hard for American audiences to follow the action. My solution: Watch with the subtitles on. Not only will it help you pick up things you missed (at least until you get used to the speech patterns), it will also treat you to moments like the one below. You should always watch television with the subtitles on. There’s gold in there to be mined.
5. The thing about Peaky Blinders is that you more or less know what is going happen every season. Things will start out fine or at least fine-ish. A new threat will appear. There will be many gunfights in many streets. People, occasionally main characters, will die. And then, at the end, when things look bleak as all hell for Tommy, he will pull a rabbit out of his hat (or have a rabbit pulled out of a hat on his behalf) and walk away. He doesn’t always walk away clean. There is usually collateral damage. But there is always a twist, and it’s one you rarely see coming. It could all be a little much it if wasn’t all so fun. The show is every crime family drama you’ve ever seen, but a high-level version of it, which is just about all I can ask for from a binge-watch. And at four six-episode seasons, again, it is very bingeable.