As I did in August of last year, I’ve decided to use this blog to try to spread the word a bit about a TV program I discovered last summer, one that deserves attention.
It can be an especially satisfying experience to stumble upon a TV series entirely by accident (even if it’s been on the air for some time, under your very nose) and quickly become a big fan. This has happened to me and my wife Karen last year. The series to which I refer (drum roll): Death in Paradise, a BBC murder mystery series airing on PBS.
The program, created by Robert Thorogood (who writes a good number of the episodes), premiered in the UK in 2011. It takes place in the fictional town of Honore, in the equally fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie (and is filmed on Guadeloupe). In some ways, each episode plays as a rather traditional–but brilliant– whodunit, in which a seemingly unsolvable murder confounds the island’s team of detectives, led by the Detective Inspector. But add the gorgeous scenery, and the regular cast of immensely likeable characters, and you have the elements of a richly entertaining show. It has been steadily gaining popularity in the UK and Europe with each season it’s been on the air.
British comedian Ben Miller played Detective Inspector Richard Poole for the show’s first three series (or seasons, to us Yanks). Each series, consisting of eight episodes, is filmed over a five-month period on location. I must confess that, at this writing, I’ve yet to see the episodes with Miller in the lead, so I can’t comment on his performance just yet, but I’ll get to it one of these days.
At the beginning of series 4, Kris Marshall took over as D.I. Humphrey Goodman. I had been familiar with Marshall mostly from his role as a goofy teen in the long-running Britcom My Family. He caught my eye as I was channel surfing one night recently, so I thought I’d give the show a few minutes of my time, not knowing a thing about it. Here, he plays the affable but socially awkward detective who, perhaps even surprising himself, can, in one moment of epiphany, solve a murder, with all of the loose ends neatly tied in his mind, including the one final clue that had escaped the notice of the others. The “payoff” scene of each episode places three or four suspects gathered as he reveals the murderer, and then methodically explains how he pieced together the details, which had been so efficiently collected by his team.
The team includes Josephine Jobert as Detective Sergeant Florence Cassel, Danny John-Jules (famous as “Cat” on the legendary Britcom Red Dwarf) as veteran officer Dwayne Myers, and Tobi Bakare as younger officer JP Hooper. They are often visited by the imposing figure of Commissioner Selwyn Patterson (Don Warrington, another British TV veteran). The camaraderie among the group is impressive; at the end of each day, they unwind together with drinks at the town’s open-air bar. And, each episode is careful not to needlessly direct attention away from the murder case with a bothersome
subplot. However, the “B” story usually involves a personal and/or romantic dilemma for one of the characters, which lightens the mood of the episode without getting in the way.
At the conclusion of series 6, Saint Marie sees another transfer of the Detective Inspector title from Humphrey to London detective Jack Mooney, played by Ardal O’Hanlon, who is known to Britcom fans as the cheerful idiot Father Dougal McGuire on Father Ted. The transition takes place in a two-part episode, during which Humphrey and Florence travel to London and team up with Mooney to solve an especially tough case. In an interesting twist (brought about by Marshall’s desire to leave the show),
Mooney temporarily fills in for Humphrey back on Saint Marie, while Humphrey remains in London. But the temporary switch became permanent, and it’s a treat seeing O’Hanlon as Mooney, who appears to be a bit more easygoing than Humphrey, but sometimes just as bumbling. When there’s a case to solve, however, his focus becomes laser sharp.
Hopefully, this may remind you of an old, familiar American police detective, with an Average Joe appearance, but with a similar talent for solving perplexing murders. If you’re a Columbo fan (and if you’re not, I don’t think I want to know you), you’ll no doubt appreciate and enjoy Death in Paradise. Unlike Columbo, of course, you don’t get to know the killer’s identity right off the bat, but chances are you’ll be knocked out by how the Detective Inspector and his team solve each crime–and, until they reveal the murderer, you’ll probably pick the wrong suspect more often than not.
The BBC began airing series eight in the UK back in January (with a new member of the team about to replace longtime favorite Danny John-Jules), and now, the patient among us get to enjoy it again on PBS. The first episode of the new season aired here last week. And how’s this for a premise: When a man is stabbed in the back of a bus in broad daylight, the only obvious suspects are the three other passengers and the bus driver, none of whom could have committed the crime without being seen by the others. As the team investigates, they soon discover that each passenger had a reason to murder the victim. Jack and his team must solve another murder that seems to have been impossible to commit in the first place.
So, do yourself a favor and give Death in Paradise a try. One of my local PBS stations (WNJN) airs it on Saturday evenings at 10:00, but yours might carry it on a different night, or not at all. Fear not, though–it’s also available on Netflix, and perhaps other streaming services, as well as on dvd (which I found at my local library). So, enjoy! I’m certain you will.
Until next time…