Vera (ITV 2011-Present)

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I cannot believe after searching through my reviews that I haven’t written a review about Vera. It’s probably because after watching seven seasons multiple times and now watching Season 8 on BritBox after it airs in the U.K., that I’m just forgetful, pet.

So let me take a moment to tell you what I think of Vera.  I love Vera.  I love the show.  I love DCI Vera Stanhope and Brenda Blethyn who brings her life.  I love the way she calls people “pet” and “luv” and wanders around the beautiful Northumberland landscape solving murders.  I love the way she barks at everybody on her staff and confronts every suspicious bloke on the block.  Needless to say, it’s a great show.

Based on novels of the same name, written by crime writer Ann Cleeves, Vera in herself is a complex woman.  Excellent in her job and ability to solve murders, on the personal side she is a very private and lone individual who doesn’t care to socialize.  She would rather retreat to her secluded home, once owned by her father, drink, and review case files at night by herself.

She has gone through two DS’s in the years, played by David Leon and Kenny Doughty.  Both have survived Vera’s demanding work schedule and barking orders to solve the mysteries.  Each episode runs 90-minutes in length, so these are deep-dive stories into the multiple suspects until Vera catches her killer.

As usual, British crime shows are the best.


Grantchester (2014-Present ITV)

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Grantchester – the show with a hot vicar.  Are vicar’s allowed to be hot?  Are they allowed to drink too much, enjoy a good smoke, and love a married woman? Do they have a propensity for solving crime?

Better looking any day than Miss Marple, comes Sidney Chambers, played by the dreamy James Norton.  Probably no one during Season 1 of Grantchester drooled over him as much as they have after War & Peace.  The ladies are clamoring to see more of this handsome Brit with a dreamy voice (if he’s not playing the psychopath in Happy Valley). So flock to Season 2 now on Masterpiece Theater (or Theatre, depending on which side of the pond you come from).

The scene is set in the 1950’s in Cambridgeshire village, which is apparently the era where Midwife, A Place to Call Home, Brooklyn, and a few other shows are reviving the times. James Norton plays the heartbroken man, whose love of his life married someone else. He carries the unrequited love torch throughout the episodes unable to give her up completely. As hard as his friend tries at matchmaking, he just can’t seem to move on.

Of course, Morven Christie as Amanda Kendall doesn’t help matters either. Having married the man her daddy preferred (higher classed gentry), she’s not acting very happy. Nevertheless, even though the lady’s husband just punched Sidney in the nose and told him to stay away from his wife, he doesn’t seem to get the point he’s stepping across boundaries.  Give it a rest Sidney.  Plenty of other women are willing to fall at your feet and wash your clergy robes.

The vicar, of course, has another relationship going on besides his congregation.  He is sleuth friends with Detective Inspector Geordie Keating played by Robson Green. Though he thinks that Sidney should keep his nose out of the business of police work, he ends up tolerating his interference while solving the latest crime.  The Grantchester Mysteries are based on stories written by James Runcie.

Even though the eye candy for the ladies with Mr. Norton exists, I do not find the murder and crime portion of it as engaging as other British television shows. It’s lacking the tension, dark mystery, and danger I prefer. There is always a short sermon in there somewhere for the small congregation of Sidney’s church (no revival going on here), but otherwise, the tales of crime and woe are so-so.  I’ve been spoiled by intense story  lines elsewhere, but I guess in 1950 crime wasn’t as exciting in Britain.

Nevertheless, it fills the void on Sunday nights.  Let’s hope that Sidney falls in love with someone and we get a little heat rather than remorse brewing each episode.  It could liven things up.

Will the vicar eventually fornicate?  Heaven help us. So far he’s good at pushing women up against a brick wall during a passionate kiss.  There may be redemption for this man after all.

P.S. It appears that Grantchester has been renewed for Season 3.

Happy Valley (BBC/Netflix 2015-16)

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Stars:  Sarah Lancashire, Kevin Doyle, James Norton

Happy Valley is anything but happy, even though it won the BAFTA Award for Best Drama Series on television.

Traumatic occurrences sending people into nervous breakdowns. Dysfunctional families. Suicide. A child the product of rape. Morbid crimes not for the queasy at heart. Psychopaths that send chills down your spine. Intense story lines. Complex characters. Episodes that drive you to drink at the end. Well, perhaps we shouldn’t drink because a few of the characters are recovering alcoholics.

What can I say about this BBC Netflix gripping, intense show? It has given me another case of post-traumatic television disorder after binge watching Season 2. Good gracious! The things that Mr. Moseley and the handsome Pierre from War & Peace do will drive you insane.

First off, let me preface this review by saying, “huh?” If you cannot understand the thick British brogue of the cast, then make sure you put sub-titles on. Otherwise, your ears will be straining to understand what the hell they are talking about and you’ll resort to lip reading. There are a few of those more properly bred Brits who are definitely a more literate in their speech and easily understood.  It’s the local folk up north that will give you a challenge luv.

Secondly, be prepared for an underlying crude story line of a few crazy people.Thirdly, your wonderful Mr. Moseley (Kevin Doyle) from Downton Abbey will do a splendid job of turning into someone you’d never recognize. You might want to put aside the picture of the mild-manner footman, because this character goes off the deep end.

And finally, don’t expect to see handsome Pierre with his brooding puppy-dog eyes in Season 2 of Happy Valley played by James Norton. He does one heck of a job turning himself into someone who will literally send chills down your spine playing the role of Tommy Lee Royce, the psychopath. Powerful performance, to say the least.

So what is this story all about? Well, the main character, of course, is Yorkshire police sergeant Catherine Cawood, played by Sarah Lancashire (who by the way taught drama at Salford University at one time – go Salford!) She portrays a troubled and intense character who sweeps you into her emotional turmoil that includes not only her job but her personal life.

I don’t know what it is about British shows but their depth, quality and intensity go far beyond the Hollywood-bred crime shows on prime-time television in the United States. Frankly, I think it’s because of the passion of emotions from each character, their struggles, heart-wrenching decisions, and triumphant outcomes that so easily sweep viewers along with them.

So pop the corn, order a pizza, grab your soda, and sit down to binge watch six hours of Season 2. Be forewarned that the last parting scene at the end of this season will leave you with a very haunting “what-if” that will be hard to shake. My mouth is still wide open.  Troubling to say the least.

The Last Detective (Acorn TV 2003-2007)

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Stars: Peter Davison, Sean Hughes, Rob Spendlove

Better late than never, right?  Well, as I’m digging through my Acorn TV subscription on Amazon, I came across The Last Detective.  It is another good British crime show, only this one has a kindhearted detective centered in the middle of the mystery.

Detective “Dangerous” Davies is the poor sod that no one likes.  He’s ridiculed at work, jokes are played upon him by coworkers, and his boss isn’t much support.  Since he’s not in the top-ten as far as popularity, he always gets the crap cases no one else wants.

The guy may be boring to some, but he has a good analytical mind and always solves the case.  He’s determined, kind, and treats people with respect, regardless of the fact the man gets no respect in return from his ex-wife or coworkers. He is the poster boy for “turning the other cheek” whenever he is wronged by others.

He has two rather odd partners in life — his dog that he gets visitation with and a deadbeat friend, played by Sean Hughes, who is always changing jobs.  He’s an odd duck that can spout off surprising trivia but comes as across as a loser with a big “L” on his forehead. Nevertheless, he is the only one who listens to what Dangerous has to say and is a true friend indeed.

I have just finished the first season and found it entertaining.  Frankly, I like the lead Peter Davison.  He’s perfect for the part with kind eyes and a calming tone to his voice — not bad looking either when he smiles.

The stories are based on a series of novels written by Leslie Thomas.  Apparently, this is the second television series, with the first airing in 1981 with Bernard Cribbins.

Another good one to check out!  I have three more seasons to finish but am sure they will be entertaining.