Cosy murder mystery seeks exotic new setting, and ends up with an ‘Englishman out of his comfort zone in the laid-back heat of the Caribbean’ concept. I have to say, the basic premise of this new BBC series didn’t exactly sound very appealing to me.
With the Englishman portrayed as an uptight professional who can’t cope without his IT support and internet connection, unhappy with goats wondering through the office and unwilling to take off his suit and tie even in hundred degree conditions, it’s like a throwback to 1950s clichés. At least the show has the good grace to make it clear that the character in question, DI Richard Poole, was reviled as anal and uptight even by his colleagues in London who wanted shot of him, but it still feels like a lazy caricature of both English and Caribbean stereotypes. That’s despite the casting of Ben Miller in the main role, who is probably the only actor alive who can take this sort of pompous and arrogant part and still round it out and make it human and interesting enough for us to have a little glimmering of liking for.
The series seems to have the most amazing cast signed up: I suspect that they approached the actors in question and say “fancy two weeks on an idyllic Caribbean paradise island? Just for the cost of a couple of days shooting?” and were amazed by the number of takers. In the first episode there’s Hugo Speer, Rupert Graves, Don Warrington, Sean Maquire, Red Dwarf’s Danny John-Jules and Being Human’s Lenora Crichlow. Next week it looks like we have Frances Barber, Robert Pugh, Survivors’ Paterson Joseph, Hustle’s Matt Di Angelo and Munroe’s Luke Allen-Gale popping in for their summer hols. The free vacation idea would also explain why Miller himself signed up to do what is in essence a reprise of his role from Primeval.
And yet the strangest thing is that underneath all this candy floss is a rather decent (and very quaintly old fashioned) locked room murder mystery that’s actually very smartly written. It’s the kind of murder-mystery show that plays spectacularly fair with the audience and shows us absolutely everything we need to solve the crime, but then also deflects our suspicion by some artful false direction – not least in the identity of the murderer …
(look away now if you don’t want too many hints about the whodunnit)
… who here is the most interesting and rounded character and the most appealing, likeable and talented of the younger members of the cast. You don’t guess their identity because it simply never occurs to you that it must be them doing it because they’re too nice, rather than because the plot is too convoluted or too many facts are withheld to make the deduction impossible.
(you can look back now if you want to!)
This rather strong and decent solid core in the middle of what I’d taken to be a bit of post-summer vicarious TV travel porn was a bit of a surprise; I’m interested to see whether this is accidental or not and whether it is maintained in the second episode, or whether the candy floss takes over from here on. At least it’s not one of those interminably grim police procedurals with Trevor Eve shouting psychotically at everyone in sight that I’m so heartily sick of these days.
I guess that means I’m in for a second episode at least, despite my reservations about the Mid-Caribbean Summer Murders premise as a whole.