We who make our daily way through the wild and wooly figurative "west" of the United States often wonder if our across the pond cousins to the east in Great Britain are really as mild mannered and well behaved as they seem on the surface. Yes, their street beat policemen are famously unarmed and you rarely hear about rampant crime shaking England the way it does America, especially the more outrageous activity like high school shootings and the like. But how then to explain the glut of British police and detective shows, many of which have crossed the Atlantic to considerable acclaim stateside? One of the longer running series in this genre is the David Jason starrer A Touch of Frost, whose 14th season has just been released on DVD. (It should be noted that this season, like many in British television, is rather short by U.S. standards--only three episodes. In fact, my youngest son saw that fact on the back of the DVD case and quoted a favorite line of his from a Simpsons episode--"We'll now be presenting all seven episodes of one of the most popular British television shows of all time.").
A Touch of Frost follows the adventures of Detective Inspector William (AKA Jack) Frost, a crusty elder who's been there, done that, and doesn't suffer fools (or his superiors) gladly. Jason brings an aura of authority and jaded experience to the role, while injecting it with some none too subtle, but often quite funny, humor, especially in his interactions with his superior officer, Superintendent Mullett (Bruce Alexander). Frost is a cop who wears his emotions (frequently anger) on his shirtsleeves, and isn't afraid to rub virtually everyone with whom he comes into contact the wrong way. Jason evinces all of this with aplomb, if a bit too much volume at times.
If the character of Frost and the performance of Jason are the drawing cards of the series, unfortunately the mysteries themselves are often lackluster in these three episodes, with at least some of the villains being telegraphed from virtually the first moment. "Dead End" partners Frost with a long ago nemesis (played by Cherie Lungi) who had questioned Frost's behavior in a showdown where another policeman lost several fingers of one hand. As in most Frost outings, we get two unrelated crimes which ping pong back and forth in short segments. The main crime here is the kidnapping of a recently released bus driver who had run into several pedestrians and killed them, which is somehow (maybe) wrapped up with a rampant teenage gang. A frankly bizarre secondary crime involves a murdered clown who may have been done in by a woman with coulrophobia (that's fear of Bozo for you uninitiated).
"In the Public Interest" is the weakest of the trio of episodes, with an apparently pagan inspired murder (which magically, if historically inaccurately, transforms into a "Satanic" one) of three kids found buried on hallowed ground in what appears to be a ritual formation. Frost has to battle against Mullett's impending divisional meeting on this one, as well as a publicity hungry author whose motives may not be entirely pure. The best of this bunch is the final outing, "Mind Games," which mixes the murder of a motivational speaker with a very compelling story of a supposed child murderer who has been paroled and is now undergoing terrorizing by the townspeople where the murdered kids once lived. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the hapless man is an innocent victim himself, which makes Frost's insistence on the guy's guilt for about half the episode the only false note in what is otherwise a neat little portrayal of the literally and figuratively incestuous nature of English village life.
These are nicely filmed and well staged productions, with several quite elaborate shots for your basic television production. I was consistently impressed with some directorial flourishes, including several fairly complex tracking shots that took in various moving objects and/or characters as the camera wended its way through various locales. Jason is always fun to watch and the supporting cast is uniformly marvelous. The series is finally wrapping up after almost two decades on the air, so it may be a bit unfair to find too much fault with it. I just wish the actual mysteries were a bit more compelling, but maybe those tamped down British really are well behaved and this is the best (worst?) they could come up with.