Actor Kunal Nayyar Was Wasted On 'The Big Bang Theory' & The New Season Of 'Criminal' Proves It

'The Big Bang Theory' let a talented actor down for 12 whole years.

I gave up on my short-lived Netflix cleanse over the weekend to catch up on the season two of Criminal: UK, and guys, I regret nothing. If you haven't seen it, Criminal is a police procedural show limited to just three sets: a police interview room, a darkened viewing room (where interviews are monitored via a one-way mirror) and the corridor outside. Sounds thrilling, right? But actually, it is.

That minimalism gives the show a theatrical feel that relies on its gripping scripts (penned by co-creator George Kay) and the UK's finest acting talent including Hayley Atwell, Kit Harington, David Tennant and Sophie Okonedo, who star as police suspects in their own self-contained episodes. It's a formula so effective that anthologies based in France, Germany, and Spain are all on Netflix for your viewing pleasure (all helmed by the same showrunners).

The Netflix show's second series includes just four episodes featuring Sophie Okonedo, Kit Harington, Sharon Horgan and Kunal Nayyar, respectively. At first, both Horgan and Nayyar seem like odd choices for the show's second series. They've both played well-worn characters in sitcoms (Horgan in Catastrophe and Nayyar in The Big Bang Theory), making them appear 'less serious' than the likes of Okonedo or Harington. And while Horgan's (brilliant) turn as a vigilante wasn't too far off from her sitcom character, this was a complete 360 for Nayyar, known to almost everyone on the planet as the ineffectual Raj on the The Big Bang Theory (who is less a character than a piece of 21st century racist American memorabilia).

For the final episode of Criminal's second series, Nayyar delivers a chilling performance as Sandeep Singh, a convicted killer and former businessman hardened after a decade in prison. The team – Detective Inspector Natalie Hobbs (Katherine Kelly), Detective Inspector Tony Meyerscough (Lee Ingleby), Detective Constable Kyle Petit (Shubham Saraf) and Detective Constable Vanessa Warren (Rochenda Sandall) – has the killer brought out of custody to question him about a case regarding the disappearance of a woman who attended the same wedding as him 11 years ago. 

After years in prison, Sandeep is bristly and uncooperative; refusing to even look the police in the eye. "I have no intention of helping you with your inquiries," he repeatedly says. "None, whatsoever." Things get more interesting, however, when we see the former businessman attempt to negotiate his sentence in exchange for information about a high-profile case. We won't give away the ending, but Nayyar's cold, borderline-psychotic performance (paired with Kay's inventive scriptwriting) makes this one of the best episodes of Criminal yet. 

For many, Nayyar's powerful performance in the Netflix series will come as a surprise. I tacitly assumed his hackneyed performance on The Big Big Bang Theory meant that he was a bad actor; but of course the issue wasn't him, but the two-dimensional character he had to work with; the funny foreigner whose defining feature is being from somewhere else (a trope summed up by that cursed Austin Powers quote: "Hey everybody! I'm from Holland! Isn't that weird?").

Like actor Jim Parsons – who also seems capable of a more interesting career than a tired (but extremely lucrative) 12-year-run as Sheldon – a dive into the final episode of the Netflix seriesmakes it clear that Kunal Nayyar deserved so much more than The Big Bang Theory. 

At least now we get to see him prove it.

Written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer at MTV Australia. Follow her at @purpletank.