Good police shows deliver the thrill of a manhunt mystery, inviting the audience to join the investigation. They present intricate puzzles that challenge audience expectations, forcing us to constantly question everything we see. PARANOID does indeed succeed at making me ask questions, questions like: “What kind of person would say that?” “Who gives a shit about this romantic subplot?,” and most often, simply “Why?”
Candid photograph of PARANOID, pondering its existence
Normally I wouldn’t ask such an existential question of a television series, especially a series that isn’t completely devoid of good intent. PARANOID aims to frame a classic whodunit around our treatment of the mentally ill, both medically and personally. An admirable goal, a good idea, a nice notion, but this is the extent of my praise for PARANOID. There are individual elements of individual scenes that pass muster, but overall PARANOID is weighed down by the mediocrity of its actors, the unabashed corniness of its writing, and the senseless mistreatment of the themes that make the series seem important.
The writing does the most to delegitimize the message of the series. Every line tries so hard to impress the audience, to force likability into boring characters via entirely unnecessary romances and witty snaps. PARANOID desperately tries to create “will they, won’t they” tension for all three protagonists, Nina (Indira Varma), Alec (Dino Fetscher), and Bobby (Robert Glenister); Nina and Alec court each other while Bobby pursues a woman connected to the investigation. I’d imagine police aren’t supposed to do that, but it’s still one of PARANOID’s less egregious violations of basic police conduct. Regardless, watching police clumsily search for romantic validation amidst their investigation adds nothing to the story, feeling more like a last-minute add from marketing executives.
The witty repertoire also lacks inspiration. On far too many occasions the writers get so caught up in making sure the protagonist has the perfect zinger for every interaction that they don’t remember to create realistic context for said zingers. Around the third time Alec jams a Shakespeare quote where it doesn’t belong — which happens before the pilot ends, and happens way too many times after — I realized that tolerating pseudo-intellectual dickheads was going to be a large part of my viewing experience.
At least going to art school prepared me for something
This leads to the series’s core problem: PARANOID has nothing new to say about mental health or its treatment. They instead regurgitate the Hollywood Standard Opinion that pharmaceutical companies are evil and the medicine they produce doesn’t work. The former point is a cliché exaggeration and the latter is even less true. These points are made so ham-fistedly that after watching, I apologized to my rabbi for breaking kosher. The show’s pharma company Rustin Wade murders a number of people in cold blood, including the indirect murders of literally a bus full of children. They have a big plastic Jesus filled with pills in their office’s lobby. And of course the hero can only solve the case after dramatically casting aside his medication and realizing the strength was within him all along.
Television as a medium has become too exciting, too advanced for a dull, sloppy series to stand out. PARANOID feels stuck in 1980, rehashing the basic mysteries and predictable romances of yesteryear. Perhaps with the aid of a time machine PARANOID could find an audience, but the bar has simply been raised too high for PARANOID to be considered good.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend