The compelling ''Cracker'' is among the more exciting British mystery series from the 1990s, featuring a hero so flawed he's just as likely to end up inside a jail cell as outside chasing bad guys. Robbie Coltrane, perhaps best known for playing Rubeus Hagrid in the ''Harry Potter'' movies, is unconventional psychologist Eddie "Fitz" Fitzgerald, a rotund teacher who exhorts students to look within their dark hearts and who gleefully embraces his own addictions to gambling, booze, and nicotine.
Caught in a downward spiral, Fitz sneers as his debts mount and his wife (Barbara Flynn) leaves him, but he rallies when a favorite student is slashed to death on a train in series debut "The Mad Woman in the Attic." The suspect, a longtime amnesiac, is put through grueling police torments, but Fitz believes in the man's innocence, thus establishing his ambivalent relationship with Detective Chief Inspector Bilborough (Christopher Eccleston) and a quasi-romantic alliance with another detective, Jane "Panhandle" Penhaligon (Geraldine Somerville, also from the ''Potter'' films). Michael Winterbottom, now a renowned feature filmmaker (''Welcome to Sarajevo''), provides admirable direction.
Fitz's interest in obsessive behavior and his talent for spinning out instant psychological profiles makes him invaluable to Bilborough in subsequent episode "To Say I Love You," in which a rage-filled young man and his scheming girlfriend kill a loan shark. Though the story is less interesting than the ''Cracker'' pilot, Fitz's slow crawl back to self-respect and resentful cooperation with his estranged wife's therapist are irresistible entertainment. Finally, "One Day a Lemming Will Fly," in which the murder of a 13-year-old boy sparks a lynch-mob mentality among the public, is a strong two-parter that raises some interesting crises for Fitz. Does he belong with his wife and kids or with Panhandle? Is he better at his job when his personal life is a disaster? The provocative final scenes make one hunger to see more of ''Cracker''. ''--Tom Keogh''