‘Prey’ Wants To Be ‘The Fugitive’ With British Accents

Take the 1993 classic American thriller The Fugitive (based on the ’60s television series of the same name) and its 1998 sequel U.S. Marshals, dedicate a tad more character and plot development to the police antagonists, add some British accents and eureka! You’ve got Prey, the 2014 ITV (Independent Television) miniseries premiering tonight on BBC America. The BAFTA-nominated (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) program offers viewers a few of its own twists and turns, as well as the characteristically gritty, gloomy overtones of modern British dramas like Broadchurch and London Spy. Despite all the trimmings, however, it struggles to be something more than a Fugitive clone.

Prey was originally released as six hour-long episodes divided into two three-part chunks. The first follows the travails of disgraced Detective Marcus Farrow (John Simm of Doctor Who fame) as he tries to figure out what a cold case has to do with the murders of his estranged wife and son, which the authorities suspect him of committing. The second picks up with the investigation of prison guard Dave Murdoch (Philip Glenister, Simm’s fellow Life on Mars alum), an otherwise exemplary employee who aided an inmate in escaping. Both halves are rife with the kinds of intrigue and dark twists that typify police procedurals like Luther, though their central characters never cross paths. What connects these two men and their stories is Detective Susan Reinhardt (Rosie Cavaliero), the embattled officer tasked with solving each case.

A structure like this would presumably grant Prey more freedom than most shows in terms of what can and cannot be covered in a timely fashion — especially since it’s a miniseries and not something with additional season orders (desired or otherwise). In other words, the glue afforded the two narratives by Reinhardt wants to let Prey operate as both an episodic, case-of-the-week kind of program while maintaining a central story. Unfortunately, as much as writer and creator Chris Lunt wants this to be, Reinhardt’s glue never really sticks as well as intended. That’s mainly because much of the first half’s focus falls on the character of Farrow, on whom the cameras are so often trained that audiences can’t be faulted for thinking everything’s really about him. As for Reinhardt, she and her own subplot are left behind.

The first episode begins with Farrow hanging upside down in the back of a police vehicle. For reasons revealed much later, the former detective is now a prisoner in transit to a correctional facility pending a trial date. Or at least he was, because now he’s stuck in the back of half of an overturned vehicle, locked in a cage with another prisoner, bleeding and concerned about the smell of gas. He wakes up one of the two officers, helps him get the other prisoner and officer out of the wreckage, then makes an abrupt escape across the highway. All the while, the blunt end of a ball point pen is sticking out of his left shoulder.

Simm’s performance here (and throughout the rest of his episodes) is stellar, especially considering the insurmountable difficulties his character must face in order to prove his innocence. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of the actor’s prowess comes toward the end of an interrogation scene with Cavaliero, in which Farrow suddenly realizes Reinhardt and his colleagues suspect him in his wife and son’s murders. And while her scenes are nowhere near as long or detailed as his, Cavaliero’s turn as the officer put in charge of the investigation (and subsequent manhunt) is just as good. The audience already supports Farrow due to the circumstances as presented, so a typical drama of this sort would leave them biased against Reinhardt. Instead, the viewer is moved to feel sorry for her.

Aside from these two, however, much of Prey‘s character development (or lack thereof) falls victim to an otherwise commendable thriller. The plot reins supreme throughout Lunt’s series, and its twists and turns make for another fine entry in contemporary British drama on television. Yet, as mentioned before, something about all of this seems a little too familiar. Like Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive, Mark Sheridan in U.S. Marshals and yes, even Cameron Poe Nicolas Cage in Con Air, Farrow finds himself caught in a scenario largely out of his control. He must escape from the situation at hand and prove his innocence — even if it means being stabbed by a pen and escaping from a prisoner transport. (Or jumping out of a wrecked prison bus before a train hits it. Or escaping from a wrecked plane transporting prisoners. Or surviving aboard a plane taken over by convicts.)

Prey premieres tonight, Feb. 25, at 10 p.m. ET on BBC America. Until then, here’s a preview…