Pop Culture Gadabout
Sunday, February 03, 2008
      ( 2/03/2008 08:28:00 AM ) Bill S.  

MOTHER COP: I first noticed Caroline Quentin as the female Watson in the comic British mystery series, Jonathan Creek, a role she inhabited so distinctly that when she left the show and was replaced by Ab Fab's Julia Sawalha, it never quite recovered. In Blue Murder, an ITV series currently being released in its second DVD boxed set via Acorn Media, she's graduated to the lead detective role - which none too surprisingly suits the actress/comedian's no-nonsense delivery and smarts. As Manchester DCI Janine Lewis, Quentin's character balances the tension of policework with the stressors of single motherhood. She's a younger sister to Prime Suspect's Jane Tennison, only without the hard edges that character necessarily had to bring to the job. Two decades later, Lewis' DCI doesn't have to push as emphatically against the Old Boys' Club.

Unlike Creek, which specialized in old-fashioned locked room howdunits, Blue is a police investigation series, with Quentin's Janine riding over a team of appealingly bickersome types (most prominently, Nicholas Murchie & Paul Loughran's Detective Sergeants Shaps & Butchers) and bantering with her handsome second-in-command, DI Richard Mayne (Ian Kelsey), in between trying to find the proper nanny for her kids. Though the prime focus remains on the crimes, the series' writers work to blend the personal with the procedural. In one episode, for example, the murder of a local thug known for bullying and terrorizing his victims is paralleled by Janine's young son's struggles with a pack of school bullies and the bantering putdowns that DS Shaps aims at his portly partner Butchers. It's all part of the same continuum of male pack dominance.

Acorn's second set feature four ninety-minute episodes from the series' third season; of these, the strongest entry is arguably "Make Believe." Written by series creator Cath Staincliffe, the episode centers around a missing child - and the found body of yet another young boy - and the devastating effects both have on their respective families. A far cry from the puzzle-piece mysteries and Clue card suspects of Creek.

In fact, those primarily looking for whodunit surprise are advised to go elsewhere, since the identity of the guilty party becomes fairly apparent long before each reveal. The focus in Blue Murder is more on whydunit - the forces and events that influence each crime - and the meticulous process that Lewis and her team go through to get to the solutions. These are no intuitive, gut-level investigators (like, for instance, Ken Stott's Rebus), but hardworking professionals. But unlike the characters in so many American procedurals (think of both C.S.I. spin-offs), their foibles feel organic, not something tacked onto by the writers to give the actors something to do.

At this writing, Blue Murder has yet to be broadcast on American airwaves: neither BBC-America nor PBS, the typical venues for this material, have chosen to pick it up. The decision frankly puzzles me since the series is equal to most of the fare run in these networks' crime time slots - and superior to such overly arch trifles as the BBC-Am shown Murder in Suburbia. For now, at least, fans of well-wrought British cop shows will need to seek out Acorn's relatively frills-free boxed set. Me, I plan on picking up a copy of Set One.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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