“Death in Paradise”

I’m interrupting my summer break from blogging just so I can try to spread the word a bit about a TV program I’ve recently discovered that deserves attention.

It can be an especially satisfying experience to discover 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 in just the past month or so. 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’m basically working my way backwards through the series, with jumps back to the present run each week.

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 detective who can be socially awkward one moment, but the next moment suddenly finds himself solving a murder, with all of the loose ends neatly tied in his mind, including 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

Florence and Humphrey.

explains how he managed to piece 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

Commissioner Selwyn.

careful not to needlessly direct attention away from the murder case with a bothersome subplot. However, the “B” story usually involves a romantic crisis of some sort 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. Without giving away

Ardal O’Hanlon as Jack Mooney.

too much (I hope), Mooney temporarily fills in for Humphrey back on Saint Marie, while Humphrey remains in London. But why do they make the switch, and how temporary is the arrangement? I’m not telling, but it’s a treat seeing O’Hanlon as Mooney, who appears to be a bit more easygoing than Humphrey–and sometimes just as bumbling–but when there’s a case to solve, his focus becomes laser sharp.

Addressing the suspects in the “payoff” scene.

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 seven in January, with plans for an eighth series next year. 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 (it is available on DVD–try your library, if it has a decent collection, or wherever you can find the show online).

We now return you to your regularly scheduled summer.