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TV QuickShots #2

TV QuickShots

Midsomer Murders (ITV; 1997-Present)

Inspector Daddyman and Sergeant Flopsy

In the absence of new episodes of Criminal Minds, the favoured unintentionally hilarious American crime procedural in Random Dangling Mystery HQ, we’ve bounced across the pond for our regular fix of formulaic whodunnits. A venerable, decade-old TV institution in Britain, we first came across Midsomer Murders on TVO (public television in both Canada and America being proud bastions of knee-jerk Anglophilia). Set in a picturesque and hopelessly quaint British county (mostly based on Somerset), it combines the good-humoured with the (suggestively) grisly in a way that its Yank counterparts can never quite manage in the same way. John Nettles’ iconic Inspector Barnaby, so capable of both suggesting steely logic and mischievous psychological gambitry, certainly smooths MM‘s see-sawing transitions between sensationalist murders and ridiculously broad laughs at the expense of wholly unrealistic country eccentrics. The show’s feature-length structure allows for a half-dozen guest stars of varying acting ability and recognizability to portray these stock weirdos, who say ludicrously ultra-English things like “Steady on, old thing” and “Rather!” (although the coppers, sadly, never seem to ask “What’s all this, then?”). Episodes from the first four seasons or so have already featured various supporting players from the Harry Potter films, HBO historical dramas like Rome, and even a very young, pre-elven Orlando Bloom as a doomed thief. Spotting the familiar faces is almost more of a joy than trying to solve the mystery, which of course is a draw for all narratives of this type. Like all formula TV, it’s as familiarity and comforting as a pie on a windowsill, or, rather, as a series of mysterious murders in a sleepy country village.

Michael Palin’s New Europe (BBC; 2007)

It's not a particularly silly walk, is it?

Watching the tail end of this most recent entry into the Monty Python alum’s television/print travelogue mini-empire as a random library rental, I was struck more than a little by how forced it felt. Surely I don’t want to blame Palin for this; he’s preternaturally at ease in front of a camera and long has been, although the limited level of effort required of a travel show host doesn’t run towards his strengths as a performer (or at least his strengths as a young performer). But his focus on the production of humour and satire in former Eastern Bloc countries is, well, not too funny, as are most jokes told in a language other than your own. Palin also goes all in on the local colour, but can’t find many locals either willing to offer much more than platitudes (Czechs have a sardonic sense of humour, says one Czech girl, sardonically) or able to express more complex thoughts about this “New Europe” in English, that unyielding language of Old Europe. Palin visits some interesting locales (though he blasts through the very pretty and under-represented Slovakia in scant minutes), but doesn’t have much of interest to say or to discover about them. It’s all kind of nice and pleasant, but not much else. And it hardly challenges the widespread boomer-targetted gentrification of the Python legacy, even if it’s a much more minor cog in that machine than, say, Spamalot.

Categories: Reviews, Television

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