Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, March 26, 2009
      ( 3/26/2009 08:51:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I'M IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT." With the fourth season (third boxed set) of ITV's Blue Murder, tough-but-matronly Detective Chief Inspector Janine Lewis (Caroline Quentin) and her crew have settled into a comfortable routine. Our single mom DCI no longer looks to be searching for a nanny for her children (an ongoing subplot in the third season), while the two longest-standing members of her team seem to have settled into an easygoing mock antagonistic relationship after perennial butt DS Butchers (Paul Loughran) had it out with his smart-ass partner DS Shaps (Nicholas Murchie) in the middle of Season Three. Even the Manchester Murder Squad's newbie, Rhea Bailey's Lisa Goodall, has found a place for herself in the room.

Which is not to say that our crew of coppers don't go through some rough patches. Young Goodall muffs a collar in the first episode and receives a royal chewing out from Lewis' second-in-command, DI Richard Mayne (Ian Kelsey). Mayne, in particular, has his hard moments in two of the season's three episodes. In the first, "Not A Matter of Life and Death," he's snappishly waiting for the results of a medical exam. In the third episode, "Crisis Management," Mayne struggles to tamp down his feelings of jealousy and suspicion over his boss' obvious attraction for a rugged Red Cap during a murder investigation on a military base. "That suits you, the moody look," Janine jokes, noting her second's displeasure, though later she'll take back her little joke.

Janine's family life appears to be running fairly smoothly at this point (though there are hints that our working ma will be having more troubles with her teenage daughter in Season Five). The biggest crisis this season revolves around her ex-husband's no-shows at scheduled family visits. His new young wife is currently in the throes of post-partum depression, but for the series' purposes, the primary purpose of this plot detail is to provide Mayne a brief opportunity to step into the teaching father role with his boss' son Tom.

Lewis' attempts at balancing work and family are thematically reinforced by the season's three murder mysteries, which all hinge on issues of dysfunctional family life. In the third season episode, "Crisis Management," for instance, a single military mom's disrupted family life in the midst of wartime winds up being the key to two killings on the North Lance Artillery base. In the opening episode, "Not A Matter of Life and Death," sibling rivalry proves a major factor. No matter what her own family issues may be, they pale in comparison to her suspects'.

As the centerpiece of her series, Quentin remains appealingly watchable: her time spent doing more openly comedic roles on series like Men Behaving Badly and Jonathan Creek gives her the backing to juggle the series' lighter moments of squad room camaraderie with more serious scenes of homicide interrogation. Unlike, say, the writers' treatment of Kyra Sedgwick's Brenda Leigh Johnson on the American lady cop series The Closer, the writers (including series creator Cath Stainhope) avoid broader comic moments in favor of smaller sly character interactions. The approach suits this solid Brit cop series.

Acorn Media's boxed set includes a forty-five minute "Behind the Scenes" feature, which looks like it was filmed by ITV as a part of advance promo for the season. The most amusing moment in the feature is a blooper sequence devoted to actor Kelsey's repeated attempts to nail a line featuring an unfamiliar bit of local slang. Each of the series' main actors are also provided time to reflect on their particular characters, with clips from across the whole series to provide context for their comments. This includes one of the season's murkier moments -- a scene where old cop Shaps advises rookie Goodall to lie instead of admitting to a mistake, which I suspect will also have repercussions in the season ahead.

The show's newest season, which has been reworked into hour-long episodes instead of previous seasons' ninety-minute blocs, has been filmed and is reportedly scheduled for June DVD release in the U.S. Since the series still, puzzlingly, hasn't found its way onto any of the major American channels airing Brit works, Acorn's set remains the way to go. For us Yanks who occasionally struggle with culling the meaning through English dialects, the disc also includes unadvertised close captioning, so we can read the slang expression that was giving Kelsey so much trouble. Many thanks, Acorn Media.


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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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