14 December 2022

Three Pines


This may be a commonplace, but I’ve been thinking about what makes TV adaptions of mystery series work, and while casting is clearly the biggest piece, there are a whole lot of other pre- and post-production decisions in play.

Looking back at the success of Magnum or Rockford, you point to Tom Selleck and Jim Garner, and they deserve all the credit they get – but their shows were successful both commercially and critically, the key being consistency, and that’s due to sharp writing and committed exec producers, Don Bellisario and Stephen Cannell.  You see a similar dynamic in Longmire or Justified, and for my money, the two best shows currently airing, Bosch and Shetland.

Michael Connelly has two series running, with one in the pipe, and Ann Cleeves has three.  This is no accident.  The books give good weight.  Connelly also gets exec producer credit on Bosch and The Lincoln Lawyer, and his sensibility looms large.  The other thing you notice, though, is the depth of the cast, in both shows, and the feel.  Bosch is very L.A., the heat, the culture, the streets; Shetland is very much the outer reaches, the damp, the insular, and the cold sea.  They’re lived-in landscapes.

Three Pines is adapted from Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache novels, and so far, Amazon has aired two episodes.  The runtime is about an hour and forty minutes, which allows for development, and breathing room.  The pace is measured, and there’s a very strong sense of place.  It’s shot in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, and it shows.  You need a warm coat.

Pursuant to the remarks above, the first reason to watch is the lead, Alfred Molina, as Gamache.  Molina goes back to Prick Up Your Ears, with Gary Oldman, and would you believe Enchanted April, not to mention voice work on Rick and Morty and Robot Chicken, as well as Doc Ock in Spider-Man?  One of my personal favorites is Close to the Enemy, from 2016.  Okay, he’s not Quebecois, or even Canadian, but he convinces me, and a large number of the rest of the cast is Canadian, and/or Indigenous.  (Tantoo Cardinal!)  All the same, Molina is the one to watch.  Gamache is grounded.  He doesn’t have a drinking problem, and he’s not grieving for a lost love.  He’s a still point in a turning world, and Molina gives him enormous gravity.  He seems to experience other people, to absorb their pain or folly or hope, and see it whole.  His empathy makes him, of course, a terrific investigator, but it makes him deeply human, as well. 

As for the Indigenous presence, there’s a thread of sorrow, never far from the surface.  The back story of Native children taken from their parents and their homes, denied their language and history, pushed to assimilate into a white, Christian culture, subject to physical and emotional abuse.  A survival narrative.

Three Pines works within the conventions, the community of eccentrics, and rash outsiders, hidden currents, shared secrets, and the rest, but touches on them lightly, for the most part. The sorrows, however, remain.


  1. I plan to check Three Pines out once we get through the Christmas rush (we have a whole stack of DVDs that we watch every year - beats putting up a Christmas tree). I tried Shetland, but my problem with it (and most noir) is that I wasn't sure that murder and suicide weren't a blessing - everyone is unhappy living there, which seems to be a fictional requirement of rural life. Which is actually quite different from the reality of most rural life that I've experienced and/or visited, from Slab City to County Donegal, Ireland, not to mention South Dakota.

  2. I've read all the Three Pines books by Louise Penny and am an avid fan of her writing. That explains my trepidation when I heard there was going to be a TV adaptation. I knew precisely what kind of man Inspector Gamache was and how easily miscast he could be. (See Tom Cruise as Reacher.) I've been relieved to see that Alfred Molina embodies Gamache, physically and, most importantly, as a man of sensitivity and morality. The supporting cast is also superb. The best examples are Ruth and her duck. They are perfect. I'm looking forward to the upcoming episodes.

    1. Of course the first example that came to my mind was… Reacher.

  3. As part of consistency, one key is featuring actors who are a match to the characters pictured by the author… and living in our heads. Tom Cruise simply didn’t fit the portrait of Reacher. The television series did a much better job.

    For a moment in time, PBS Mystery had perfect portrayals of Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple. After Joan Hicks died, they relaunched Marple with an actress nothing like anyone has ever pictured and placed her in a 1970s setting. Ugh.

    I never bought the actor playing Lord Peter Wimsey nor his replacement. It’s all about consistency of character. Perhaps the more we love a series, the more likely we are to be critical of who plays whom.

    I can think of an example of overdone consistency. For a while, Netflix could have been renamed the Harlan Coben channel. He hammered out several stand-alone shows, some foreign, some domestic. I particularly liked Clickbait.

    But I found a niggling little problem. After watching a few, I found it difficult to follow secondary and tertiary characters… they all seemed to run together, I concluded whoever did oversaw casting for North America seemed to choose the same archetype for suburban neighbors. They could have kept the same secondary cast and settings and reused them for the next miniseries.

    1. I never bought the casting for Wimsey, either (although I loved Glyn Houston as Bunter, in the earlier versions), but some years later I caught up with the BBC radio adaptions, and Ian Carmichael's voice was perfect for it. Cognitive dissonance?

  4. I agree with all of these, Leigh.

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  6. Three Pines: A tranquil haven nestled amidst the whispering woods, where time seems to stand still and nature's serenity reigns supreme. Whether it's the rustling leaves or the chirping birds, every corner exudes a sense of calmness and tranquility. Exploring its winding trails and quaint cottages is a journey into a world untouched by the chaos of modern life, a true retreat for the soul.


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