Roush Review: ‘Interrogation’ Tells a Crime Story a Different Way

Kyle Gallner in Interrogation - Season 1
Ursula Coyote/CBS

Could it be that there’s a new way to watch one of TV’s most familiar genres, the crime drama? The 10-part limited series Interrogation which feels more like an “investigation” than a series of interviews — gives it a shot by asking you to “follow the evidence” and watch the episodes in any order, except for the first and last, essentially letting you become the cold-case detective. (The series is based on transcripts from an actual homicide investigation.)

Forming a mosaic of conflicting testimonies as the story jumps around in time over a 20-year span, this is not your ordinary binge-watch. The opening episode is straightforward enough, inviting us to a gory crime scene: the 1983 murder of housewife Mary Fisher (Joanna Going), unloving mother of drug-addicted lost-teen Eric (Veronica Mars‘ terrific Kyle Gallner, alternately scary and sad).

He discovers her body during an especially drug-addled day, and after placing a panicked 911 call, he instantly becomes the prime — and, tellingly, only — suspect in the eyes of L.A. detective David Russell (a solemnly smug Peter Sarsgaard), who’s leading a case for the first time. He also has a past with Eric, we later learn.

After that, you’re on your own. Episodes don’t follow a linear path. One is set in the days leading up to the murder, following Eric on a self-destructive spiral that reveals just how estranged he is from the mother who threw him out of the house — and even nailed the windows shut. (A poignant David Strathairn plays his emotionally fragile dad, Henry, who always tried to keep the peace and never loses faith in his son.) Other episodes take place years later, during parole hearings and a retrial that puts Detective Russell’s actions under a microscope. Scenes depicting Russell’s unhappy home life, including an emotionally abusive father and distant daughter, don’t add much.

Interrogation Season 1 Peter Sarsgaard

(Credit: John Golden Britt/CBS)

Along the way, Eric’s cause is championed by a wily investigator (The Wire‘s Andre Royo), a high-profile lawyer (Eric Roberts) and a dogged Internal Affairs detective (Vincent D’Onofrio) whose progress is shown in different stages, depending on what you watch and when. Which can be confusing, and sometimes repetitive. But the deeper you dig, the more Interrogation becomes an unusually compelling tragedy of a family shattered by Mary’s murder and Eric’s conviction.

It’s also about the moral and ethical decline of Detective Russell, who like Javert in Les Misérables refuses to consider Eric’s innocence, ignoring other leads and hounding him for years, at the risk of his own reputation. By the end, Interrogation has almost too many victims to count.

Interrogation, Series Premiere (All 10 Episodes), Thursday, Feb. 6, CBS All Access