British Drama: A Guide (Part II: The Mystery Tier 3)

Tier 3:  Hey, I Saw That On PBS, Hmm

Cadfael (1994-96)

A former crusader turns to God and becomes a monk and a healer.  Cadfael (Derek Jacobi) is a sharp man still and, like Liam Neeson, has a very particular set of skills that come more often than you’d think in the quiet town of 12th century Shrewsbury.  He also finds himself to be a man with hippy-age ideals hundreds of years before the enlightenment.

This is not unlike a The Name of the Rose (1986) with smaller but better production values.  As far as the mystery is concerned, they are light and relatively uncomplicated.  The focus is on Cadfael himself and his dealings with the suspects, the religious officials, and  whatnot who appreciate his talents or not as plot dictates.  A PBS classic for the less bloodthirsty viewer.  Based on books by Ellis Peters.

Region 1 ($63) Region 2 (£20)

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries (2001-07)

DI Thomas Lynley (Nathaniel Parker) is the 8th Earl of Asherton while his partner, DS Barbara Havers (Sharon Small) is of the working classes.  Much of the time, Lynley and Havers are trying to get along–that is, Lynley is trying to show Havers that he’s actually an all-right person.  This show is the missing link between the light and the dark.  The detectives actually have home lives worth looking at and investigate crimes with some kind of perspective.  The first two series are based on books by (American!) Elizabeth George.

Things go incredibly well for this show for about four series.  But as Parker’s hair descends, so does the quality of the work.  Lynley starts to lose his verve and perspective and things become increasingly personal.  It isn’t that he makes them personal, as Morse does, but rather he seems to be put on these cases expressly because of his ties to the case.  Madness.  You’ve got a character dynamic here that establishes itself immediately and slowly dissipates.  The logic then becomes, “The dynamic is old hat, we need some new drama to stir the pot.”  That drama is in the mystery, you’ve got us hooked now put together some bloody mysteries.

Region 1 ($111) Region 2 (£58)

Messiah (2001-08)

DCI Red Metcalf (Ken Stott) investigates “particularly gruesome murders.”  The first is a series of murders that cut out the tongue of the victim, replace it with a silver spoon, and then place the body in odd ways.  The title holds the clue to what the hell is going on, but the investigators don’t have that benefit.  He is supported by DI Duncan Warren (Neil Dudgeon), Red’s best friend, DS Kate Beauchamp (Frances Grey), and others.  It’s a puzzler and it’s dark.

A dark mystery below Tier 2?  Yes, I’m afraid this show tends towards the over-dramatic after the first series (which is quite excellent/Tier 2).  Stott is terrific as a far less cheerful detective than his Rebus.  He has reason to be less cheerful, he has a bad relationship with his brother and tensions at home.  As I was implied just a moment ago, this is very much on the borderlands of Tiers 2 and 3, but I felt its gruesomeness wasn’t enough to overcome.  What do you know?  Only the first series was based on a book by Boris Starling.

Region 2 (£17)

Rosemary & Thyme (2003-06)

Thank God for trees, eh?

Rosemary Boxer (Felicity Kendal)—mmm Felicity Kendal—is an academic/plant pathologist/pro-gardener meets Laura Thyme (Pam Ferris) right after Thyme was dumped by her husband and Rosemary got the sack from her university job.  They are instant friends due to their mutual love of gardening and sticking their noses in other people’s business.  The game is afoot and it smells a bit herbal.  The clues happen in their vicinity along with the associated crimes and their nosiness gets the better of them.

I’m a bit skeptical about a woman 23 years out of the game having forces of habit, but that’s alright.  But as far as mystery is concerned, it’s a bit on the crowd-pleasing side.  A lot of people hate when the resolution comes from left field, this is one that keeps the ball well in front on the audience.  This tends to take away from character development.  These women are not particularly flawed individuals, so things remain soft-boiled at all times.  It isn’t my cup of tea, but is probably the best light mystery I’ve seen.

Region 1 ($54) Region 2 (£26)

The Shadow Line (2011)

When a big-time criminal is murdered, both the police and the murdered man’s former associates take up the case.  For the police, DI Jonah Gabriel (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and DS Lia Honey (Kierston Wareing) investigate.  As for the criminal’s, Joseph Bede (Christopher Eccleston) just wants to do this one last deal that will allow him to leave the business with his ill wife, but the victim’s insane son Jay Wratten (Rafe Spall) is intent on finding the murderer.  Meanwhile, the mysterious Gatehouse (Stephen Rea) is going about with ambiguous intentions and designs.

This show is a tough one to mark.  It’s very dramatic, almost maudlin, in its characterization and dialogue.  These are bad things.  On the plus side, it’s a very complicated mystery that I was so interested in that I was willing to wade through the sometimes silliness.  And it is, strictly speaking, only silly sometimes.  Also on the plus side, you’ve got two of my favorite actors with one (Ejiofor) who continues to impress and another (Rea) who was so good in two movies (The Crying Game (1992) and V for Vendetta (2005)).  Bad news is that this is some of the worst work I’ve seen from them (a thing easily done).

I’m playing pretty close to the wind on this one.  This is, technically, a seven part serial.  But, I figure, since it isn’t based on a book and is greater than two or three parts, that this is just a television series that had only one season/series.

Region 1 ($44) Region 2 (£9)

The Vice (1999-2003)

No, it’s the crime within the crime we’re interested in.

DI Pat Chappel (Ken Stott) is in the vice squad, which concerns prostitution and pornography.  He’s quite sensitive to the prostitutes and is mostly concerned with violent pimps and the kind.  He’s supported by his best bud DI Joe Robinson (David Harewood).  Also on board is PC Cheryl Hutchins (Caroline Catz) who is the longest serving cast member.  They see a lot of tough stuff.  Can they deal with it?

The Vice‘s vice is its slight tendency towards the over-dramatic.  It’s a pretty tough world out there without having to focus on the junk going on with the police.  Not that I don’t want to see their day-to-day travails–and the show does cover them along with psychological affects–but it’s the over-playing of those travails that puts this in Tier 3 (though at the very top, despite it’s alphabetical placement).  Stott is solid, but the others can’t match his subtlety.  Still, it’s a gritty look at some gritty stuff.

Region 1 ($31 -Series 1&2) Region 2 (£36)

Next time: Tier 4

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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2 Responses to British Drama: A Guide (Part II: The Mystery Tier 3)

  1. Pingback: British Drama: A Guide (Part II: The Mystery Tier 4) | Prof. Ratigan

  2. Pingback: British Drama: A Guide (Part II: The Mystery Tier 2) | Prof. Ratigan

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