Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cinerati Netflix Recommendation: "The Last Detective"

Picture, if you will, the typical American police procedural.  If you have the same picture in your mind that I do, then you are picturing a team of detectives rushing to solve a crime.  They are rushing to fight against the "First 48" hours after which the solution of a murder/crime becomes more difficult.  They receive their forensic data at lightning speed, have a coroner on call, and the episodes often contain exciting chases and flashy gunfights. 

Sometimes, just sometimes, we get to see the actual procedures of the investigator -- if we happen to be watching a classic episode of "Law & Order."  Even then, the show is episodic and mystery driven.  Certainly, in the best procedural dramas like "Justified," the main detective evolves as the season progresses and his life is an on going sub-plot that ties episodes together.  But it is rare that the detective's story move beyond sub-plot to become the driving force in the show, and it is the mysteries themselves that dominate.  The best procedural dramas have strong sub-plots that become long standing arcs where the characters evolve over time and become real to the viewers.  In the worst procedural dramas, some of which are among my guilty pleasures, the detectives never become more than ciphers who rampage through mystery after mystery.  Yes...rampage through mystery after mystery, their gunfire solving crimes as often as the justice system.

The ITV drama "The Last Detective" is the best sort of police procedural.  It's mysteries take their time in resolving themselves, and the detective exploring them is a delight to watch.  He is calm, understated, and intelligent.  Detective Constable "Dangerous" Davies, played by Peter Davison, is anything but dangerous and is initially disliked by his fellow detectives for his low key personality.  In the first episode, he increases their dislike of him when he relentlessly pursues a mystery investigation to its unfortunate end.   "Dangerous" is given the title "the last detective" because of this investigation.  It is his supervisor's way of telling him that when a crime comes to the department, Dangerous will be the last detective called to investigate it.  That is unless the crime is so lame/irritating that no one else will do it.

The manner in which the pilot episode allows the investigation to reveal the life and personality of the murder victim is a marvel to watch.   As the investigation unfolds the viewer comes to care for the victim, a rare phenomenon in procedural dramas.  The third episode has that rarest of rarest occurrences, an unsolved crime, but that unsolved crime leads to an interesting narrative of obsession and the risks that detectives constantly take.

I have always had a soft spot for Peter Davison as an actor.  He was the first "Doctor" I watched on television and the "Fifth Doctor" is still my favorite.  Davison brings all of his charm and charisma to this show.  If you've got the time, give it a try.
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