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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Taggart - Set 1
Taggart - Set 1
Acorn Media // Unrated // March 24, 2009
List Price: $49.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted March 17, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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You know, not every TV show from the U.K. is automatically terrific. Acorn Media has released Taggart - Set 1, a collection of seven episodes from a Scottish police procedural that the DVD box touts as, "the world's longest continually running police drama." Now, that "Set 1" moniker may be a little confusing to first-time viewers of the series (like myself), who may assume that these episodes are from the first season of the series, which began way back in 1983. They're not. This "Set 1" consists of 2002's 19th season ("series" in U.K. TV-speak), with episodes 56 - 62 featured: Halfway House, Hard Man, Fade to Black, Blood Money, New Life, Bad Blood, and the two-parter An Eye for An Eye. While certainly it can be difficult to jump into the middle of a series and appreciate all the nuances and backstories that motivate the main characters, it's not an impossible task (certainly a terrific mystery show like Midsomer Murders is accessible no matter where you start). I didn't have any trouble navigating Taggart - Set 1, and that, ironically, was this collection's main problem: it was so thoroughly ordinary and conventional (and sometimes even laughably rote) that nothing - outside of unfamiliar Glasgow locales and impenetrable Scottish brogues - made it stand out in any way.

The premise is distressingly familiar. On the mean, cruel streets of Glasgow, Scotland, four Maryhill C.I.D detectives work tirelessly - and thanklessly, of course - to solve the frequently baffling murder cases that pop up on a weekly basis. The bossman is Detective Chief Inspector Matt Burke (Alex Norton), a bullheaded "hard man" of a copper who doesn't take lip from anybody, riding his team of detectives almost as much as the criminals he tracks down. Detective Inspector Robbie Ross (John Michie) gets the most guff from his superior, flack that is usually well-earned since Robbie thinks the rules of proper procedure apply to everyone but himself. Detective Sergeant Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff), who often is paired up with Robbie in the field, doesn't like his cavalier attitude towards procedure, nor does she appreciate that as a woman in the largely male police force, she has to work twice as hard to get the same level of respect from her coworkers. Rounding out the team, young Detective Constable Stuart Fraser (Colin McCredie), a sensitive, intuitive officer (who also happens to be gay) frequently clashes with Burke over his methods of investigation, but he's acknowledged by everyone to be detail-oriented, scrupulously thorough officer.

Yes; in other words: you've seen it all before. Familiarity in structure or content isn't necessarily a bad thing, if the piece is executed with a bit of flair or originality to shake up expectations, or if it's produced with a simple sincerity of purpose that allows one to enjoy the conventions of the genre for their own sake. Unfortunately, Taggart - at least this season's worth of episodes - doesn't employ either of those two approaches to its thoroughly predictable storylines and direction (and performances while we're at it). As I alluded to in the opening of the review, one can get spoiled by the TV offerings that routinely come from the U.K. to the States, because, for the most part, we're getting the cream of the crop (or at least what we suspect is the best). So naturally, there's an expectation that when something like Taggart comes along, considering its reputation and the sheer length of its production run (26 years and counting), the viewer is in for a treat. But almost right out of the gate, Taggart came across as rote, mundane, and at times, almost unintentionally comical.

It doesn't help that the mysteries are 100% predictable - and that's saying something, coming from me. I've written before that I like to shut off (what little) powers of deduction I have when I watch TV and film mysteries; I like to be engulfed in the experience. I want to be confused along with the other characters, and surprised by the revelation of who the killer is at the end of a film or TV episode. But I'm happy to report that I was seven-for-seven in solving the crimes on Taggart - and that's real bad news for veteran crime lovers who actively play detective while watching this genre. If I can hit it that reliably, we're not even talking a Diagnosis: Murder here. Almost every episode here starts off the same - some kind of murder, which will eventually be connected up with a larger conspiracy - followed by the credits (really lame synthesizer music and generic cast shots) and Burke's arrival at the crime scene. He growls out some pithy, ironic, cynical, mildly abusive retorts to his colleagues (including the expected smart-assed coroner technician), before returning back to home base to further insult his underlings before giving them their assignments. And then it's all busy legwork and false starts and blind alleys before everything comes together, and Burke delivers his coup de grace summing-up at the end, putting an all-too obvious point on what just transpired.

If someone were intentionally trying to make a parody of 80s and 90s cop shows, Taggart would fit in nicely with its carbon-copy clich├ęs. Nothing in Taggart smacks of originality, from the characters to the stock situations. Burke's bug-eyed intensity, barking insults at coworkers who, deep down, respect him as much as he values them, is just as recognizable as the desultory approach to the series' production. His supporting team screams "stock characters" (I was particularly amused, and not in a good way, by his street-wise street informant, Wisnae, who has the low-down on everything - it reminded me of when Benny Hill would parody Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch) Direction and editing is frequently 1-2-3 head-and-shoulders, with the killer shown only by his or her gloved hands or shoes, walking around the victim (I haven't seen that since Barnaby Jones). The series' politics are muddy, at best (topics such as globalization and unionizing are given lip service, with easy sermonizing about the pros and cons, while anti-abortionists are called "space cadets" and "religious monkeys" - that's about as subtle as you get with Taggart), while some of the details of the actual policework are, one might say...amusing (I love the scene in Halfway House where Burke and Fraser become seriously winded after a 10-second footchase of a suspect - a suspect they then implore to please stop running...which he does). Worst still is the dialogue, particularly the final wrap-ups where Burke sums up what we've just seen. Playing no different than Jack Webb's withering zingers to a criminal at the end of a Dragnet episode (and that's insulting to Dragnet, because that series is the all-knowing, all-seeing GodHead of police shows) Burke throws out obvious, giggle-inducing bromides like: "The McCabes of this world always want more. The problem is...it always comes with a price." Or, "He was protecting his son. The sad fact is that Jimmy will need his father now more than ever...and he knows it." Or, "There's a world of difference between having a brain and knowing how to use it." "Yeah, well...where she's going...she'll have plenty of time to work that one out for herself." Hilarious. And terrible.

Here are the 7, 50-minute episodes included in the three-disc box set Taggart - Set 1, as described on their slim disc cases:


Halfway House

When a young man is shot dead for no apparent reason, suspicion falls on one of the other residents of the halfway house where he lived. In this hostel for ex-cons, debtors, and the formerly homeless, everyone has a past they want to keep secret. But only one is prepared to kill to make sure it stays that way.

Hard Man

A murder disguised as an industrial accident leaves a mangled body and DCI Burke and his colleagues on the wrong trail. As the local shipyard workers begin to compete with Far East yards, DS Reid finds incriminating photographs of their boss that might prove a motive for murder.

Fade to Black

After a nurse is stabbed to death, the detectives arrest her regular taxi driver, a man with a history of stalking and assaulting women. But they also focus on a doctor who had an affair with the victim, not to mention a sideline channeling stolen pharmaceuticals to a drug dealer.


Blood Money

A boxing fight turns deadly post-bout when the promoter is murdered and the night's takings stolen. After the rignside doctor is killed and a fight-fixing scam uncovered, Burke and company must act quickly to prevent further deaths.

New Life

A car bomb kills a pharmaceutical research scientist on his way to an important international conference. Could blame lie with the protestors who have been targeting him? Or maybe a grudge-holding scientist from a rival firm? Or was it an inside job?

Bad Blood

Two gangland killings leave Burke fearing that a turf war might erupt. Meanwhile, DS Reid worries that a new addition to their team may have her own agenda. Burke decides to give the newcomer room to run, betting that she will lead them straight to the killer.


An Eye For an Eye

A militant anti-abortion group comes under suspicion when two doctors at a women's health clinic are brutally murdered. Drug links between the clinic and a local crime boss cast the net of suspicion wider, but DC Fraser believes that the motives for murder might lie closer to home.

The DVD:

The Video:

Taggart - Set 1 is presented in a clean 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Colors are muted and at times muddy (this may be because of the original color scheme), but the image is somewhat sharp, with no compression issues to speak of here.

The Audio:

The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo audio mix is adequate for the job in this heavy dialogue-driven series. Hiss is minimal, and thank god for subtitles to interpret those heavy, sometime indecipherable Glaswegian accents.

The Extras:

There are 26 minutes-worth of extras detailing the various locales in Scotland used during the filming of Taggart - Set 1, including Glasgow Central Station, the Clyde, George Square and Bell's Bridge. No subtitles makes some of the narration tough to understand, but these little travelogues (which really don't have anything background info on the series) are still more interesting than the main features.

Final Thoughts:

Utterly predictable, conventional and at times, unintentionally funny. It may be the longest running police drama on television, but Taggart - Set 1 may not be the best representation of this Scottish police procedural (I hope the rest of it isn't as bad as these episodes). Obvious dialogue, stock characters, and easy-to-solve mysteries spell out one thing: away an bile yer heid. Skip Taggart - Set 1 unless you must see every single TV series that comes out of the U.K..

Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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