If you've been meaning to catch up with Hetty Wainthropp and company, here's your last chance - the fourth season of "Hetty Wainthropp Investigates" is also its last.
For those unfamiliar with the series, whose characters come to us from John Bowen's novel "Mission Persons:" Hetty Wainthropp (Brit TV legend Patricia Routledge), feeling antsy following her sixtieth birthday, decides to spice up her life by going into the detective business, which is run out of her house with the help of loving husband Robert (Derek Benfield) and a sad pup of a troubled teen named Geoffrey (a young Dominic Monaghan).
The whole series can best be summed up with words like "quaint" and "twee;" it's notably old-fashioned in its British sensibilities and its love of the amateur sleuth and crimes in out-of-the-way villages. These are cozy little mysteries, the kind that lets you settle in with some old friends - Routledge is endlessly endearing in the title role, Benfield's grumpiness is lovable, and the energy of Monaghan's giddy youth is infectious. Absent are the more sinister angles of whodunits (indeed, the Wainthropps have a policy of no murder cases, as to avoid too much death and danger), resulting in a more relaxed, comfortable mystery show.
For the fourth season, Geoffrey has been allowed to grow; having landed a girlfriend (Suzanne Maddock) in the previous year, there's now issues of young adult relationships to be managed. He's also gotten more involved in the cases themselves, no longer the confused, bumbling kid he was when we first met him. (We also get a surprising bit of non-comical rear nudity in one episode, for which fans of Dominic Monaghan may be quite grateful, although it does fail to fit with the tone of the rest of the show. I suppose it's all part of the series' attempts to mature.)
But Geoffrey's growth as a character is arguably the only notable change of this final season. Everything else here is more of the same. Hetty's still a busybody, her nose for information and her knack for deduction still as keen as ever. If you've seen one episode, it could be said, you've seen them all, and the series' producers weren't about to change things up too much for the final run.
But more of the same isn't a bad thing for a show this enjoyable. These are simple, sweet diversions of the Agatha Christie variety. The novelty of the earlier seasons may have worn off, but we've gotten to know (and love) these characters by now, and the fourth season refuses to disappoint. For her final batch of episodes, Hetty invites you to sit back, have some tea, and enjoy a few light mysteries.
(Sadly, the show was not given the chance to wrap itself up properly. As such, the final episode isn't much like a final episode, and an important loose end concerning Geoffrey will only be resolved in the imaginations of the fans.)
Acorn Media has collected all six episodes (approx. 50 minutes each) of the series' fourth season in a three-disc box set. Like the previous seasons, the three discs come in single keep cases housed in a cardboard slip sleeve.
Episodes included in this set are:
Disc One: "Something to Treasure," "Family Values."
Disc Two: "Digging For Dirt," "Mind Over Muscle."
Disc Three: "Blood Relations," "For Love Nor Money."
As usual with the show's DVD run, the video presentation is rather iffy, the image being grainy and soft throughout. Not enough to detract too much, but more than a more recent production probably should contain. Presented in the original 1.33:1 broadcast format.
No problems with the serviceable stereo soundtrack. No subtitles are offered, although the discs are closed captioned.
Just text-only cast filmographies and production notes (which attempt to make up for the lack of other extras by loading up on lengthy interview excerpts from all involved.)
For admirers of the previous seasons, this fourth box set is a no-brainer. But to newcomers, it's still Recommended. These are cracking mysteries, breezy and inviting and so very enjoyable. Fans of quaint British mystery will surely welcome Hetty Wainthropp into their homes.