Over the last six months I've become an unabashed fan of Taggart, "the world's longest continually running police drama," though that's a misleading claim. One hundred three episodes, most movie-length, have been produced since its premiere in 1983, compared to, say, Dragnet's 374 half-hours, or Law & Order's 456 hour-long shows produced between 1990 and 2010. Still, it's an impressive record especially considering Taggart's original cast is long gone and has been for some time, including (Jim) Taggart himself, the character having died in tandem with the actor who played him some 15 years ago.
A kind of comfort food series more along the lines of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation than the best British police procedurals - Cracker, Prime Suspect, etc. - Taggart is an older generation, established show with nothing to prove, adored by fans in its native Scotland especially, though in recent years it's been steadily developing a worldwide following.
My colleague Paul Mavis wrote a scathing review of Acorn Media's Taggart - Set 1, finding the show "thoroughly ordinary and conventional," but the episodes he watched were produced during an ill-advised format change, when Taggart briefly switched to hour-long shows (including commercials). The shorter episodes just didn't allow for the kind of detailed characterizations and rain-soaked Glasgow atmosphere Taggart so excels.
Taggart - Set 3 is a better value than previous sets. Set one featured seven 45-minute shows (minus the commercials) while Set 3 includes eight 69-minute shows. Set 1 featured episodes 56-62 - all from the 19th series (season); Set 2 includes episodes 63-70, all from series 20 plus the first two shows from series 21. Taggart - Set Three includes episodes 71-78, from series 21 and 22. For fans it's a bit confusing, and it would help a lot if on future releases Acorn would list the episode titles on the back cover of the packaging. To their credit, at least these have been consistent and chronological, compared to the hopelessly confusing British DVD releases.
Since 2002, Taggart has revolved around four principal characters: Detective Sergeant (DS) Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff), with the program since 1990. Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) Matt Burke (Alex Norton) became her boss in 2002 following the murder of mentor DCI Mike Jardine. Second-billed as DI Robbie Ross (John Michie) has been a series staple since 1998, while Colin McCredie, as DC (Detective Constable) Stuart Fraser, has been with Taggart since 1995. During this period Lesley Harcourt had a regular role as attractive crime scene investigator Gemma Kerr, while Michael MacKenzie has a similarly recurring part, as pathologist Dr. Magnus Baird.
The show rarely veers from its tried-and-true formula, but it's one that works. The close-knit foursome investigates grisly murders in and around Glasgow, episodes often showcasing the colorful settings of that particular story (an army training base, an affluent marina). Almost always each episode will also focus on the personal problems of one of the main characters: Reed reconciling with her dying ex-husband in one episode, exploring therapy to ease her ongoing grief regarding Jardine's murder in another.
A running theme throughout these later Taggarts are Burke's bitter relationship with his abusive father and his estranged family; Ross's incorrigible flirting and bad habit of becoming intimate with women involved in the team's current investigation, and his constant head-butting with Burke; middle-aged Reid coming to terms with a life dominated by a job that leaves no time for marriage and children; and, to a lesser degree, homosexual cop Fraser in a similar situations with would-be male lovers.
Unlike the warm-and-fuzzy family-like work environment inevitably portrayed on American television, the foursome on Taggart don't so much confide in as tolerate one another. Reid will roll her eyes in disgust when Ross starts flirting with a suspect, and Burke becomes impatient and surly when his detectives' personal lives get in the way of his investigation. This gets artificial after a while, Burke pissed off that Reid's late for work, she unwilling to tell him it's because she's visiting her ex in the hospice across town. Also unlike most U.S. cop shows, there's no room or time for workplace romances. As Reid, cynically notes in one episode, they amount to "three divorcees and a celibate homosexual."
Taggart - Set 3 includes a nice batch of good-to-very good episodes, including "A Taste of Money," which starts out unpromisingly as a killer-knocks-off-restaurant-critics tale that thankfully evolves into a more realistic, sinister story about predatory lenders. "Dead Man Walking," which opens with an auto mechanic brutally murdered, has several interesting twists, and even "Do or Die," which ludicrously places Ross among a platoon of young soldiers going through basic training, has its moments.
Set and filmed in Glasgow, the city is a major character in and of itself. In one episode, Reid and Burke must travel to Edinburgh, amusingly mocking its over-emphatic Scottishness. The sardonic Glaswegian delivery ("There's bin a mudduh!") is another big part of its identity, though Americans may want to switch on the SDH subtitles now and then to catch some of the harsher dialects. Unlike many British shows set outside England, Taggart's cast is genuinely local: Reid and Norton were born in Glasgow, and McCredie hails from nearby Dumbarton. Michie was born in Burma but raised in Edinburgh.
Video & Audio
Taggart - Set 3's shows are presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. The quality of the cinematography and the transfers are excellent and up to contemporary television standards; these are slick-looking shows, and the 2.0 Dolby Surround is quite strong. Optional English subtitles are included. There are no Extra Features.
Though it rarely strays far from its established, time-tested formula, Taggart is a lot of fun, an enjoyable police series with interesting characters and atmosphere. Highly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.