TV's 'Silk,' 'Cracked': British barristers on Ch. 12, Canadian crackpots on Reelz

Maxine Peake plays barrister Martha Costello,
Maxine Peake plays barrister Martha Costello, (aspiring to rise to the rank of Queen's Counsel, in "Silk.")
Posted: August 25, 2013

'Innocent until proven guilty. Four words to live by." So criminal defense barrister Martha Costello declares with conviction to a fresh-faced intern in a particularly cringeworthy scene in the first episode of Silk. There are other missteps, tired cliches, and moments of silliness to follow.

Happily, Masterpiece Mystery's latest British import improves considerably over the course of its three weekly feature-length episodes. Created by former attorney Peter Moffat ( North Square, Criminal Justice), Silk recounts the daily travails of criminal lawyers in London. It premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on WHYY TV12.

The drama gets its hands dirty in the nitty-gritty of trial preparation and execution, focusing on the tirelessly idealistic Martha. Played by the talented Maxine Peake, Martha is the girl-next-door grown up. She's from middle-class stock and suffers a Northern accent - like our Southern accent, it unjustly is associated with ignorant, uneducated, lower-class folk.

Silk pits the indefatigable, incorruptible Martha against her old friend and fellow barrister Clive Reader (Rupert Penry-Jones), a gorgeous, fair-haired posh private-school boy with a silken tongue (lubricated it seems by regular cocaine use) and a killer way with women. He's happy defending drug dealers and thieves.

The two barristers are in a fierce battle to be appointed Queen's Counsel - or "to take silk," as it is known, after the colored silken robes QCs are allowed to wear. A small cadre at the top of the profession, QCs can choose their own cases.

So what's with all these strange terms? What's a barrister, anyway? And what's with the creepy white wigs they wear in court? British legal dramas seem to come from a different world.

They're not all that alien, as fans of the great 1970s show Rumpole of the Bailey can attest. British lawyers enter one of two general specializations. Solicitors directly represent the client, but they can't actually go to trial. So once a case goes to court, the solicitor contracts with the trial lawyer, or barrister.

As for the wigs. Well, you know, it's . . . a British thing.

Silk excels when it comes to the specific cases. The crimes aren't that unique or outlandish. But each one presents Martha with ethical dilemmas that challenge her apparently immovable moral code. Give Silk a chance. Its few glaring missteps aside, it's a thoughtful, rewarding drama.

A 'cracked' cop

Most prime-time crime dramas don't know how to handle mentally ill characters, who are portrayed as either psycho killers or piteous victims.

Things are very different in Cracked, a weekly procedural cop show from Canada, which premieres Friday at 10 p.m. on the cabler Reelz.

Cracked isn't just about mentally ill criminals - its hero is cuckoo.

David Sutcliffe stars as Toronto detective Aidan Black, who almost loses his job when he loses his cool at a fast-food joint and clucks like a chicken for 10 minutes straight.

Instead of grounding him, his boss (Karen LeBlanc) builds a new unit around him: the Psych Crimes Unit, which is tasked with handling situations involving mentally ill victims or perps.

Black is taken way out of his comfort zone when he's partnered with a psychiatrist, the stunning Dr. Daniella Ridley (Stefanie von Pfetten).

The duo, who have terrific chemistry, solve crimes committed by the odd, the strange, and the weird.

This is fun stuff, but it also has smarts and a good heart. Cracked is distinguished by good writing and characterization - and very memorable guest stars, who play some seriously interesting oddballs.



Premieres 9 p.m. Sunday on WHYY TV12.


Premieres 10 p.m. Friday on Reelz.

Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or

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