2003-2004, Granada Television.
Total running time: 414 minutes.
Series created by Cath Staincliffe.
Written by John Fay, Matthew Hall, Jeff Povey, Cath Staincliffe.
Directed by Pip Broughton, Alex Pillai, Paul Wroblewski.
The success of Helen Mirren's "Prime Suspect" mysteries has led to other female detectives popping up on British TV, one of the latest being DCI Janine Lewis of "Blue Murder." But where Mirren's Jane Tennison is grim, alcoholic and generally miserable, Lewis, playing the maternal, fortysomething Caroline Quentin, is a warmer, earthier sleuth.
Quentin, a veteran of such British series as "Men Behaving Badly" and "Jonathan Creek," may not have the figure of "CSI's" Marg Helgenberger or Emily Procter, but she doesn't have their attitude either. Her Lewis is a real woman -- a single mother living in a modest house but dedicated to her work. Quentin, the writers and the directors use her aunt-like demeanor to their advantage; when Janine cozies up to a suspect and looks at him/her with her empathetic blue eyes and warm smile, there's a good chance she'll get them to come clean.
"Blue Murder" began appearing on British TV in 2003 and is still in production, but it has not aired on U.S. television; the reason could be the thick northern English accents of the cast (the series is set in gritty Manchester). Acorn Media's DVD set provides no subtitles or closed captioning; a quarter or more of all dialogue will be unintelligible to American ears, but the stories -- as complex and character-driven as any Inspector Morse mystery -- are compelling enough to make this set worth watching.
"Cry Me a River" Parts 1 and 2. The feature-length series pilot introduces Janine Lewis, married mother of three with another on the way. Just as she's been promoted to Detective Chief Inspector and given her first case, she catches her husband (Joe Tucker) in bed with another woman. He moves out, but will periodically show up throughout the series to help watch the kids and try to win Janine back.
A married teacher has been bludgeoned to death in his rented garden plot, and Janine and her handsome subordinate, Detective Inspector Richard Mayne (Ian Kelsey), keep turning up more suspects, which doesn't sit well with Janine's bean-counting boss (David Schofield), who'd like to close this case (and all future ones) as quickly and cheaply as possible. Homemade porn videos and illicit drugs figure in the winding plot. Gillian Kearney, who played the jilted young June in "The Forsyte Saga," guest-stars in this very much more contemporary setting.
Hit and Run. Just as Janine gets a call telling her a female body has been fished out of a canal, she witnesses a little girl get run down by a car. The two seemingly unrelated crimes are far from it, as Janine discovers that the fleeing car may have been instrumental in the death of an illegal alien lap dancer.
Up in Smoke. That coffin that was just pushed into the oven of a crematorium may have had an extra body slipped inside, and it's up to our detective to find out who all that dust belonged to and why a metal leg implant in the ash may explain everything. Oh, and there's incest too.
Fragile Relations. A young activist mullah has died in an arson attack at his home, and all clues point to a local white supremacist leader. But Janine thinks the neighborhood's Islamic elders are hiding something. She also wonders why the supposedly celibate young cleric slept in a queen size bed.
Lonely. This set's most moving episode concerns the murder of a pretty baby sitter, whose stabbing was apparently witnessed by the autistic 12-year-old boy she was minding. Extramarital affairs and speed dating come into play in this whodunit that keeps you guessing until the final moments. The guest stars include Ralph Ineson, whose ultra-serious role here will come as a shock to fans of "The Office," where he played Ricky Gervais hilariously boorish best friend, Chris "Finchy" Finch.
Acorn has put the first six episodes (five stories) of "Blue Murder" on three single-sided discs, each in a slim pack and all enclosed in a slick cardboard sleeve. The back cover of each disc provides plot synopses.
The main menu for each DVD offers Episode Index and Scene Index. You can access all scenes on a disc (covering two episodes) through the Scene Index menu. The episodes, which run about 70 minutes each, have between nine and 12 chapter stops.
The first disc also offers Cast Filmographies, which amount to lists of credits for Caroline Quentin, Ian Kelsey, David Schofield and Joe Tucker. There are no other extras.
The handsomely filmed series is presented in 16:9 widescreen format and Dolby Digital sound.
This is an entertaining new detective series that will appeal especially to British mystery buffs. Its absence from American TV outlets makes this DVD set of the first five stories particularly welcome. Caroline Quentin's homey DCI Janine Lewis may not be as cerebral as a Dalgliesh or Morse or as Christie-cozy as a Hetty Wainthropp, but she is a refreshingly modern heroine. Too bad that the accents are sometime hard to get through and that the DVD set is such a just-the-facts production. Maybe the next set -- subsequent episodes have aired in Britain --will have more to play with.