"Death in Paradise" (BBC TV 2011-Present)

5 Kernels

Stars: Ben Miller, Danny John-Jules , Sara Martins , Élisabeth Bourgine

Once again, the sun never sets on great murder mysteries put together by the British. I’m a sucker for these who-done-it shows and finding Death in Paradise has been a television treat. Netflix is currently streaming seasons one and two. If you haven’t tuned in, this is a good one to binge watch on a rainy weekend.

Ben Miller plays DI Richard Poole, a detective sent from Scotland Yard to an island in the middle of the Carribean to investigate the murder of one of their own. Arriving in a suit and tie in scorching weather, he soon starts to complain about the heat, bright sun, terrible food, and a world where there are no seasons.  Just when he thinks he can go home to foggy London and the corner pub for a decent meal of beef and potatoes, his superiors have decided he should stay.

DI Poole is a character who is quite the nerd but a brilliant nerd, who is extremely unpretentious and private about his life and emotions.  He manages a team of three other locals (two men and a woman), all of who are native to the area.  If you can get past their sometimes difficult to understand island accents, their characters will grow on you quickly.  After a few episodes, you will be an expert. Prepare to be immersed in the culture of voodoo, pirate treasures, miracle waters, jabs at the French, abundance of seafood, and a friendly lizard.  Ben Miller is a hoot in his role. You will see a lot of familiar British actors each episode, who have obviously taken roles to enjoy the sunny location.

Dead bodies are discovered with the usual British television lack of gore.  Only an occasional machete or knife in the back, strangled necks, clean shots, and suspicious drownings are seen.  One reason why I love British murder mysteries — they lack the graphic bloodbath scenes of U.S. television. On BBC, it’s a clean kill, and then we get to find out if it’s the butler with the candlestick in the library who did the ghastly deed.  DI Poole gathers all the suspects at the scene of the killing.  After bringing out the truth about their individual involvement and secrets, he reveals the killer. There are some pretty good laughs in each episode, too, that add to the entertainment value.

I see after researching the show further that it is still airing, but Ben Miller has left (via a not-too-popular episode). Here’s an interesting article as to why, and I don’t blame him for wanting to be with family.  CLICK HERE.

His character has been replaced with Kris Marshall.  Kris is fantastic.  I fell in love with that buffoon on My Family (another British comedy great).  Hopefully, Netflix will continue to add seasons as they become available, and I will be able to enjoy his take on solving murders.

For me, Death in Paradise is an entertaining kernel winner.  With 8 million viewers in the U.K., it appears to be a hit over there too.  Perhaps it’s the draw of sandy beaches and sunshine.

Midsommer Murders (Season 14-15)

5 Kernels

All right, Netflix!  About time you loaded more Midsommer Murders, because I was fresh out of peacocks screaming at night, bushes moving in the dark, thunderstorms, electricity going out, and all sorts of murder weapons (since not many of you Brits get to carry guns). Instead of shooting the people who get knocked off, the killers poison, strangle, drown, stab, and bludgeon their victims to death. However, once in a while a shotgun does make its way into the scene (that’s because those country folks are always hunting something).

Also, a new DCI is on the block – John Barnaby, the cousin of Tom Barnaby. Our Mr. John Nettles has moved on to other things (stage, I think), and Neil Dudgeon (interesting name) has taken up his place.  He is a fresh replacement to a show that seems to never end (now on Season 17).  Since I’ve watched Seasons 1-13, I was elated to see the latest. I’m quite addicted to Midsommer, wishing I could retire among the cottages and quiet, murderous English countryside filled with Druids, aristocrats, and village folk.

We also have our old standby, DS Ben Jones, played by Jason Hughes. Since Tom’s wife disappeared, we have a new lady on the block, Cully Barnaby, played by Laura Howard.  There is also a very welcome addition, since no children are in the home, and that is their smart dog, Sykes. He’s a well-trained laughable critter that brings a bit of humor.

So what’s different?  Characters.  Tom Barnaby and John Barnaby are related, but their personalities and methods are noticeably different. The new DCI has a dry and unpretentious sense of humor, as well as a quiet and calculating mind. His interaction with Ben is on a different level, as the young DS continues to learn the ropes of what it takes to be a topnotch DCI in Midsommer. The poor lad had a bit of an adjustment to his new boss, especially when he learns John has a degree in psychology. Actually, Ben is my favorite DS of them all.

Of course, after 17 seasons, you begin to wonder about this murderous location in the United Kingdom.  It’s a wonder any residents are left.  The murders are many, and some of the kills in these new seasons are outright insane.  I mean how many people can one person knock off in an episode? I think I counted four in one story.

Having just finished watching Hinterland, Midsommer is in a category all its own. It is more lighthearted than other brooding and emotional crime shows.  Frankly, I think we need it now and then just to loosen us up a bit.

So head on over to Netflix.  Brew a cup of tea, grab a scone, and settle in for mystery. Gosh, I hope I don’t have to wait too much longer for Seasons 16 and 17 to show up.  It better not be years, or I’ll be be bludgeoning my television and spiking my tea with whiskey.

Prime Suspect (1991 – 2006)

4 Kernels

Intense British Drama

British Television (1991 – 2006)

Stars:  Helen Mirren
BAFTA TV Awards & Emmy Awards

British television once again sucks me into its clutches and won’t let me go an entire weekend on Netflix.  I’ve seen so many murder mysteries lately, I’m going to start writing my own one of these days.  Enter Prime Suspect – a British ITV television program that aired intermittently from 1991 – 2006.  It revolves around Jane Tennison, a strong-willed police detective that always gets her man.

Jane is smart as a whip, emotionally cut off in relationships, married to her job, drinks a bit too much, fights against discrimination as a woman in the workforce, and barks orders at men.  Her character is an interesting mix of emotions, and Helen Mirren is an award-winning actress who does well in keeping you interested.  Jane will not rest until she solves a case, and has been reprimanded, suspended, taken off the cases, and put back on almost every episode because of her unorthodox tactics that breaks every rule in the book.  Just when you think she’s going to get fired once and for all, she solves the murder and becomes the hero vindicating herself in front of her male counterparts.

The stories in Prime Suspect are very intense.  I’ll admit I was a bit emotionally drained after a few of them, but found myself glued to my green recliner.  The murders deal with real issues in areas that you don’t necessary wish to know about on the dark side of London.  Poverty, pimping, prostitutes, homelessness, transvestites, police corruption, pedophiles, childhood sexual abuse, and war criminals just to name a few topics.  If you’re sensitive, this is not the show for you.  Some episodes are disturbing in content and also visually as you look at the dead victims and become intimately acquainted with how they were murdered.

After saying all that, you probably wonder why I didn’t give it a five kernel rating.  As I stated, I found the show intense, sometimes disturbing, and the episodes a bit overly long.  Some story lines drag into two parts, and it’s just a time-consuming show to watch.  Be forewarned.  Also, as much as I loved Mirren in the role, she did such a great job that by the end, I was getting a little tired of Jane’s character. A few times I wanted to slap her face over her insubordination toward her peers. You’d think after years on the force, she’d learn a little.  Jane Tennison never does, but her salvation is that her character is so tenacious, she gets the murderer one way or the other.

Other than that, it’s a good show, if you like intense drama.  The British get to swear much more on television that our US counterparts, so be prepared for some pretty surprising language.  I really need to stop watching so much murder.  It’s taking it’s toll.  Nevertheless, I love British television because everything they do is top-notch.  They’ve known how to tell compelling stories from Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and others.  It’s what they’re made of, and I rely much on my English ancestry to place drama in my own work.