That noted legal expert Judge Judy often says something along the lines of, "If you lie to me once, I tend not to believe anything else you say." That same sort of thinking might be adapted slightly to writer/producer Lynda La Plante's follow up to her enormously successful Prime Suspect series, this one entitled The Commander: if you write a character doing something completely nonsensical, the viewer tends not to believe anything about the show. That's the conundrum at the heart of Commander, a police procedural cum character study built around British police commander Clare Blake (Amanda Burton), a pioneering policewoman who also finds herself at the center of a controversy that spills into all of Series One's episodes after she ends up sleeping with a convicted murderer.
And there's the rub to this entire series--the pilot episode posits Blake as a smart and capable career woman, one of the, if not the, first female police commanders in England. And yet she does this incredibly stupid thing, which is never fully explained or developed in the opening episode. A murderer whom she helped put away 12 years ago is granted an early parole, and through a series of mishaps (why can't these shows ever have haps?), Blake ends up providing a forward to his book on rehabilitation, which sets a whole PR avalanche in motion. The murderer, one James Lampton (Hugh Bonneville), then may or may not be stalking Blake, to which Blake responds pretty much with a shrug of the shoulders (much as she does with another stalker who ends up stabbing her in another episode). When Lampton and Blake suddenly jump in bed with each other, it's a major "huh?" moment that The Commander can never overcome, especially since it then becomes the crux of a whole cascading series of events that spills into the rest of the first season's shows.
But this weird lack of motivation and/or well-written character development isn't limited to just Blake. When Lampton arrives at her apartment surreptitiously and her doorbell then subsequently rings, she tells him to stay put in the kitchen. One of her police underlings is at the door, at which point Lampton jumps up and reveals himself. It is so disastrously stupid, and is there for no other reason than to provide a way for the police force as a whole to know that Blake is involved with Lampton, that you want to throw your shoe through the telly, as the Brits might say. When Lampton innocently shows himself at the door and inquires in a hyper-concerned voice, "Is everything all right?," even though Blake and her underling have pretty much only said hello to each other, it's a maddening scene and one unworthy of the writer who gave us Jane Tennison. When Blake ends up sleeping with yet another unlikely suspect, the boyfriend of her young underling whom she's mentoring, it's beyond maddening and just leaves an unpleasant aftertaste that makes the whole show seems more than slightly smarmy.
Otherwise, this is pretty basic La Plante, with some corrupt policemen doing their nasty business among criminals doing their nasty business, and a conflicted and supposedly complex central character overseeing it all. The mysteries in the episodes are not especially well crafted and at times are simply ludicrous. In an episode dealing with a computer hacker blackmailer, shots are taken from underneath his see-through keyboard as he types lasciviously (there's really no other word to describe it) in a scene that seemed to me to have been based on some long lost Ed Wood movie. The bad guys in all of these episodes are almost too easy to spot from their first moment on screen (even when they're not identified as such by the plot machinations), making it all seem a little pointless.
After the first, more solidly directed, outing, the style of the show changes to that annoying handheld, jiggly quick zoom stuff that I guess directors think adds some sort of visceral quality to the proceedings (note to directors: it doesn't). Burton does a stolid if unremarkable job bringing Blake to life, and Matthew Marsh has some nice, if at times overplayed, moments as the chief corrupt police officer, who has a long history with Blake. If only they all had better developed characters and more compelling mysteries to solve.
The enhanced 1.78:1 image is for the most part sharp, with excellent, if muted, color and saturation. For once in a British TV series, there's no noticable difference in image quality between interior and exterior scenes.
The standard stereo soundtrack is well balanced between dialogue and an at times hokey and cliche ridden underscore (you're going to know when something "scary" is about to happen, in other words). No subtitles are available.
A few minimal extras dot this four DVD set: interviews with Burton and La Plante, a featurette on the supporting cast, and bios of La Plante and Burton.
I had high hopes for The Commander, knowing it came from the creator and guiding force behind Prime Suspect. Unfortunately those hopes were dashed pretty much right out of the gate by completely nonsensical character decisions and uncompelling mysteries. This series unfortunately has very little to recommend it, and so I kind of sadly suggest you Skip It.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet