The cozy sweater of British television has been Death in Paradise (BBC One).
It’s familiar, warm and reliable, and it tends to make it seem comfortable and soothing to have a program that revolves around murder.
There were several roster changes at the start of the tenth season – Ardal O’Hanlon left and was replaced halfway through the ninth season by Ralf Little’s anxious, allergic DI Neville Packer, and DS Florence Cassell is back after a series-long absence.
But otherwise, while Officer Dwayne Meyers of Danny John-Jules is no longer on the force, he is as normal as the wave lapping on the shore.
Somebody gets killed, the mystery is solved, the ending is satisfying, and there are a lot of bad jokes. No wonder it’s still one of television’s most famous shows. For all the smart, concept-driven, budget-busting mega-dramas – most of which have half the audience this one does – a detective series should often be as low-brow as it is difficult to resolve its core mystery. A famous morning anchor comes under suspicion on the island of Saint Marie when news anchor/investigative reporter/Nancy Drew’s character Melanie is found dead in her pool.
She had just told her mother in an enthusiastic phone call, and the story would blow up the island. She was on something major.
So what was that story, and who was going to want her dead? Enter Packer DI.
Little’s Packer is a wheezing, fumbling, heat-crazed mess who claims to have sick building syndrome, meaning he can’t go to the police station to operate, but instead languishes with a wet towel on his brow in his shack, complaining of a rash. Every night, he eats the same meal and asks the cook not to season it too much. “Are you never tempted to try something new?” Cassell asks him. He answers steadfastly, until an unfortunate incident involving a citronella candle and mosquito netting causes him to inadvertently burn down his cabin, causing him to get to know the newly returned Cassell a little better because no one else would let him sleep on his couch. “Why take the risk?”
It’s not necessarily convincing yet, whether it’s the beginning of a romantic plot. Packer is a Mr. Bean character scatterbrained who happens to have good intuition – much of which he strangely owes to his thermos – while Cassell is cool and still suffering from sorrow over her fiancé’s death.
They’re making a decent double play, though. The murder raises the issue of Packer’s return to the station, whether or not he is allergic to the house, and in a matter of seconds, Packer and Cassell set out to find out exactly how Melanie went from a brief morning jog to a floating corpse. The clues, including a stray shirt button, unusual smells quickly picked up by the hypersensitive nose of Packer, and a spectacularly to-the-point password for an encrypted USB drive, must be pieced together. That all takes place in such a beautiful environment is borderline cruel for those who have not dared to think about vacationing since the pandemic started. Looking out at the sea, kissing the sun, sipping a drink, the thought is almost too hard to bear. In this frosty, mostly housebound month, maybe it can also be seen as much-needed visual escapism. In such a small town, you must love Death in Paradise for having so many murders to solve – the crime rate must be staggeringly high – while also serving as a convincing advertisement for the return of tourism, whenever that might be. As for Melanie’s sad demise, well, it’s a leisurely affair to solve the crime. It is implied that a number of enemies are made by the beginner, but it is actually a done deal from the beginning. He knows that she was possibly strangled when Packer looks at the body in the pool, judging by the clear fingerprints around her throat. “And the joints need to be examined, too,” he adds in one of the many groan-inducing gags that make you know that, no matter how many horrible crimes occur, this is certainly not dark television. This opening episode loads it all in, from government corruption to sexual harassment, then throws in a story about a lost cat and handles it with the same gravity only because it can.
I’m not sure what callous program planner Luther Anfang Janu