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The Last Detective and The Commander On DVD (Acorn Media)

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by Darwyn Carson
December 29, 2011 2:05 AM
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Guest review by Darwyn Carson

Right off, I admit there's a soft spot in my heart for British-produced mysteries and dramas. The Last Detective is right at the top of my fav's list. This lighthearted BBC TV-fare, based on the Dangerous Davies novels by Leslie Thomas, escaped my attention until last year after Acorn released season four on DVD. I watched it all one weekend and wanted more. Lucky me: Acorn is distributing the entire series in one package (17 episodes) and I get to see how Detective Constable Davies came to be nicknamed Dangerous—he is not—from the very beginning.

Peter Davison stars as Davies, a forty-something man on the fast-track to nowhere in the township of Wimbledon, England. Estranged from his wife, denigrated behind his back and to his face by his cohorts, the constable is given nothing but scut work by his superior who, straight-out, tells him that if an assignment is important Davies will be the last detective to be sent out, if it's unimportant he will be the first. Poor Davies seems appreciated only by his lumbering St. Bernard and an occasional local miscreant. He just might be the nicest man north of London, which is often mistaken for being thick—he is not. His inherent detecting skills, along with his determination to pursue that which is right, begin to play out in his favor. Even his coworkers grudgingly give him his hard-won due.

The Last Detective could be just another who-done-it show but gets a fresh lift from creative writing (Thomas has written several episodes himself) and an excellent ensemble of actors, with inventive guest characters spouting the most unbelievably rude things! The storylines meander a bit but I like this series, especially Peter Davison who brings Davies to life with just the right blend of pathos and wit. By the way, Sean Hughes, well known in Britain's comedic circles, portrays Mod Lewis, Davies' closest mate; the interchanges between these two are delightful. Included in the Special Features is an unexpected bonus; the original 1981 Dangerous Davies movie starring Bernard Cribbins as Davies and Bill Maynard as Mod.
 
As for The Commander, nothing's quite as sticky as the tangled webs spun by writer-producer Lynda La Plante, who consistently delves past the point of comfort when weaving plotlines or creating characters to populate her crime-solving worlds. She is best-known to American audiences for her darkly-textured Prime Suspect series. At her plot's core a powerful female protagonist usually resides. In Prime Suspect it was the strong, complicated DCI Jane Tennison, a role Helen Mirren sank her teeth into with an intesnity that created a buzz about her and turrned the series into a first-rate hit.

Not unsurprisingly, La Plante has done it again this time using Amanda Burton (Dr. Sam Ryan in Silent Witness) in the lead role of Commander Clare Blake. With her appointment as head the Murder Review Team, Blake becomes the highest-ranking female officer at the New Scotland Yard. The old boy's network, set against her from the outset, creates an arena rampant with multi-layered, double crossing mis-directions that never let up. Ever. La Plante even creates a wickedly intricate counterpart for Burton's character in the two-hour pilot. Hugh Bonneville, playing against type, is cast as a charismatic, wrongly convicted serial killer of woman. I found myself squirming in my chair, more than once, thinking it impossible for The Commander to steer herself out of a maze so replete with devilish traps. Blake proves to be no angel as she is, like most of La Plante's main characters, fully-flawed and struggling in her personal life.

It would be a letdown if there were a lack of consequences or easy outs for questionable behavior. La Plante doesn't let us down, somehow managing to open paths where there were none for her people and tying up loose ends—and sometimes not. In the end we're left panting until she winds us up again in the ensuing episode. Hang on to your hats for this adventurous series. Bumpy just begins to describe the ride. The Commander, Set I is out on DVD now.
 
More on the above titles can be found at acornonline.

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