For me, one of the most engaging aspects of travel in an English-speaking country is the chance to experience fresh scenery and an unexpected slant, what I think of as a slight turn of the prism, without becoming unutterably lost. These four series, now available on DVD, are all worth a sojourn on the couch.
4 SERIES: SERIOUS, SILLY, OR BOTH
Hinterland, Series 1, is a new detective series that features remote Welsh seascape settings, as well as lovely lilting Welsh accents unlike the more commonly heard English or Scottish. Compared by U.K. press to the popular series The Killing and Wallander, Hinterland is indeed dark and hinges on a brooding detective with personal issues. The four episodes (an hour and 40 minutes each) are self-contained, rather than one continuing mystery like in The Killing or the remarkable Broadchurch. Every unhurriedly-paced episode ends in a solution, which is good, but they also don’t build up a deeper tension. The lead actor is Richard Harrington playing DCI Tom Mathias, a loner who misses his kids but otherwise isn’t called upon to show much emotion. Nor is he nearly the dreamboat David Tennant was in Broadchurch. He’s certainly watchable, though, and the mysteries aren’t simple to unwind. Bonuses explore the myths behind two of the episodes, as well as behind-the-scenes clips.
Republic of Doyle, Series 1, is a Canadian mystery series featuring the pretty scenery of St. John’s in Newfoundland. It’s got snappy dialogue, is good natured, is not very violent compared to others of this ilk, and its comic undertone never takes over. Family relationships play a largish role: on again/off again divorce, a teen girl and her stepgranny, and, of course, father and son. The main guy, played by Allan Hawco, is cute, smiley, endearing, and rule-breaking, if sometimes trying a little too hard with his wisecracks. Overall, the series is not as heavy, by any means, as Foyle’s War, and is more on a par with Midsomer Murders. 12 episodes on three discs. Bonuses include some audio commentary and a “making of” featurette.
George Gently, Series 6, takes place, like the previous series, in the 60s in the Northeast of England. The series stars Martin Shaw as Inspector Gently. He epitomizes integrity and gentle firmness. His young sidekick John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby), who this season misses his daughter after a divorce, offers a good contrast to aging Gently’s earnestness. The pace of the episodes is never slow. The plot, of course, employs some of the clichés of the genre, such as the conflict between different ways of policing and supervisors who just don’t get it until the heroes win the day by solving the crime. Four feature-length episodes, several bonuses.
William & Mary: The Complete Collection, is a sweetly dark comedy set in and around a London funeral home, with the script and acting of its two main actors the major selling point. Will the undertaker, played by Martin Clunes, and the midwife, played by Julie Graham, get together, or won’t they? Will they stay together, raise a family? All the usual complications ensue, and one or the other lead will do something inexplicable just to keep the dramatic tension going, but you will root for them as a couple. Clunes’s character is lovable, quite unlike the curmudgeon of Doc Martin. It’s an intelligent and funny series. The six-disc set includes 18 episodes and a bonus 40-minute cast interview.
(All the above DVDs are available from online booksellers and Acorn.com. I also recommend, if you have a Roku system, trying out AcornTV.com’s streaming service.)