Showing posts with label British. Show all posts
Showing posts with label British. Show all posts

25 November 2014

Important Thinking On British Televsion Mysteries

By David Dean

Being a trained observer from my police days, it has not escaped my notice that many of my fellow  SleuthSayers are fans of British television mysteries.  It helped that several of you wrote articles on this very subject--these were my first clues.  I suspect that many of SleuthSayers' readers are fans, as well.  I don't have enough evidence to make an arrest, but I think that it's a reasonable suspicion.  So, knowing that I am in good company, I am ready to confess without benefit of counsel, that I, too, enjoy these programs from the misty home of the English language.

English TV Policemen with authentic accents
I've heard, or read, several very good reasons for liking the Brit mysteries (as well as some of their other programming such as "Call The Midwives"), and I have a few of my own which I'm anxious to share.  Firstly, everybody speaks with these really great accents, though sometimes they are difficult to understand.  I have advocated subtitling, but this has not yet been enacted.  What is it about their accents, anyway?  There are dozens of "English" accents being spoken around the globe, from the U.S. to South Africa, but not one of them sound as smart as Englishers themselves.  That's just not fair.  I want to sound smart, too.  But since I can't, I like to watch the British being cultured and savvy.  Sometimes I try on an English accent at home, but Robin either studiously ignores me, refusing to respond to any of my extremely pithy observations, or tells me to stop embarrassing myself.  I feel smarter when I do this, though she says that I don't sound, or look, smarter at all.  She is of Irish descent on both sides of her family and is unreasonably hostile to the English, I think.  Things only get worse when I switch to an Irish accent.



Dreaming Spires
So, the accents are cool, but that's not the only reason I like British television.  There's also the locations.  My absolute favorite is Oxford, the setting of the Inspector Morse, and latterly, the Inspector Lewis, series.  Notice how I worked in "latterly"?  That's how they talk.  Besides being an incredibly beautiful city with its "dreaming spires" (don't ask), it also puts the lie to British weather being lousy.  It's sunny nearly every episode--and this show (in both its manifestations) has a decades-long history!  I can't understand why all the Brits want to move to Spain when they've got Oxford.  If you follow the adventures of Rosemary and Thyme, you'll find that they too walk in beauty beneath a glorious sun and flawless sky.  As soon as Robin retires, we're saddling up for some of that gorgeous English weather!  To hell with Ft. Lauderdale!


Rosemary and Thyme
But the main reason that I like British programming may surprise you.  Yes, the wonderful acting is certainly a draw, but that's not it altogether.  It has to do with the casting.  Have you ever noticed that, unlike American television, British actors are not uniformly attractive?  In fact, in many cases even the actors and actresses in the leading roles of British shows are not in the least bit glamorous.  They're allowed to look like me over there, and still work.  Inspector Robbie Lewis would never be confused for an American television detective.  He might, however, be mistaken for an actual police officer.  Neither Lewis and Hathaway, nor the inspector/sergeant duo on Midsomer Murders appear as if they run ten miles a day and spend an hour every morning in the gym.  I've never seen any of them beat anybody up, which is a daily requirement of their American TV counterparts, and very calorie-consuming.  And since they don't carry guns, they can't shoot any villains.  They actually say that, you know--villains.  As for R and T, they spend all their time investigating murders at various castles, hotels, and estates across England while doing some light gardening, and taking numerous breaks to snack and drink wine.  These Brits appear to drink a lot of wine!  I always thought they were big on warm beer, but no, it's wine for these folks, and it's always being served at things called fetes, which no American knows the meaning of; though they look a lot like parties.  They seem to be held mostly on village "greens" or in gardens.  Though, when the weather doesn't permit (which is almost never--see above) they are held in drawing rooms.  No American knows what kind of room that is either, but it doesn't matter.  This is another thing I like about English life on the telly (sorry, Robin, old girl); they do a lot of partying!  The down side is that the guys almost always have to wear a tux, though they call them something else, I think.  Anyway, it's kind of nice to see men and women who could pass for what I call "normal" populating the screen, with nary a "six-pack" ab between them. 

So there you have it, all the good reasons to watch British television.  Oh...were you thinking it was the clever writing and convoluted plots that form the centerpieces of these programs?  How the hell would I know?  I can't understand half of what they're saying.  I just like how they say it.     
                   

23 January 2013

Rosemary & Thyme


David Edgerley Gates

Those of you who know me, or have some sense of my taste in books and writers, could easily imagine I'm not that crazy about cozies.  I'm a big fan of JUSTIFIED, for example, with its crazed hillbillies strung out on Oxycodone, and ready access to high-cap mags.  I like the dark corners of Dutch Leonard and Ian Rankin and Dennis Lehane.  Psychotics and losers and bent cops, high octane and graphic exit wounds.  It might then come as a surprise that I'm absolutely queer for a Brit mystery series that's set in the world of, wait for it, gardening.  Oh, my stars and whiskers.  What's next?  Pass the Earl Grey.  The old boy's gone gone into the deep end over DOWNTON ABBEY.


Well, not quite.  The show's called ROSEMARY & THYME.  Too cute by far for a title, you might say.  And what of its conceit, two gals of a certain age, in the middle fifties, say, who club up together to run a landscaping shop.  Not high concept, particularly, not Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger as twins.  Who greenlighted this project?  Dead out of the starting gate.  (Oh, did I mention that Season Three picked up a bigger audience share than 24, in the same time-slot?)

Here's the premise.  Rosemary, the hottie, beats men away with a stick, but she's just lost her job.  Laura Thyme, a former cop, has been left by her husband of thirty years for a younger woman.  They pool their resources and start a business.  In amongst the pruning and spading and earth between their fingers, murdered bodies turn up in the shrubbery.  It follows as the night the day, that our two overly-curious heroines get sucked in, not that they're too averse, or how else would you have a show?

We should probably credit Masterpiece Theater and PBS for bringing Brit TV to the States., the most obvious example being UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS, but many others.  Then the raw market for product brought more, Benny Hill, and ARE YOU BEING SERVED, not all on PBS.  A&E syndicated a few, buying them direct.  Mysteries and cop shows were big, LOVEJOYINSPECTOR MORSE, adaptions of Dick Francis.  Some of them better than others, some didn't make it across the pond.  THE BILL, for instance, has never been broadcast here, for whatever reason---impenetrable London slang?  It was John Thaw's breakthrough part, you'd think it would have an audience, after MORSE. Who knows?  LOVEJOY was big in the States, and even now, the complete series on DVD will set you back a hundred and eighty bucks on Amazon.  I love Ian McShane as much as the next guy (and DEADWOOD made him a household name), but a hundred and eighty bucks?

Why, then, is ROSEMARY & THYME so engaging?  Or the better question, why do I find it so charming?  It doesn't have Boyd Crowder, or Raylan smacking Dickie Bennett around.  It doesn't have Ian McShane saying "fuck" every third or fourth frame.  It doesn't even have Morse, ridiculing the long-suffering Lewis.  And the mysteries themselves, it must be said, are somewhat lame, although occasionally one will catch you by surprise. The two-part opening episode of Season Two, "The Memory of Water," completely blindsided me, even though it owed overmuch to Ross Macdonald, but we all steal shamelessly from the masters.  The answer is that the engine behind ROSEMARY & THYME isn't the plotting, but the dynamic between the two lead characters, who are both familiar, and comforting, but who also have the capacity to startle you.  And not always in comfortable ways.

I should come clean about my passion for Felicity Kendal (voted 'best bum' in a Brit poll, when she starred in the series GOOD NEIGHBORS, another show that's never translated to America), who plays Rosemary. She was saddled with the adjective "cute," early on, with her performance in SHAKESPEARE WALLAH, and never quite shook it, for the simple reason that she is.  The nice thing about this show is that she gets to leaven the cuteness with a quick dose of the acerbic.  Pam Ferris, who plays Laura, is nothing if not acerbic, at least in character.  Her range of parts is mildly astonishing, police procedurals, gothics, Dickens, and most recently CALL THE MIDWIFE.  It must be her face, a sort of plastic Rosetta stone, malleable but encoded.

The relationship between the two characters is relaxed from the get-go, a couple of girls who know better, out in the wide world, but there's a sense in which their vulnerability, the trust issues, make them uneasy, even with each other.  They rely on their instincts, and their instincts are sometimes at odds.  The best moments often come when they doubt one another, and one isn't quite convinced.  Usually this results in the unconvinced party being at jeopardy from the villain.  I never said it wasn't generic.

Every once in a while, though, something happens that's off the radar.  An episode where Laura's son comes to see her.  She thinks he's been recruited by his dad to beg her to come back, because her ex is a chickenshit.  So he is, but the kid's only there to ask to sign over the title to the old house.  The ex has an offer on it, and wants to sell.  Quick disappointment shadows her face, and she just as quickly sucks it up.  And then she signs.  So, how is it with you? she asks her son, smiling.  You read her pain.  

Why do I like this show?  Because for all its contrivances and sometimes completely silly stuff---a guy gets shot with an arrow during a Medieval archery contest?---it often has the ring of homely human truth.  The crime isn't exotic, or out of the ordinary.  It's not the arrow, but the heart.