By Jacqui BanaszynskiMy fandom of American TV police/crime procedurals goes back to sharing Agatha Christie mysteries with my mother, then watching “Perry Mason” on a not-very-sharp black-and-white TV. I loved trying to ID the bad guy (spoiler: on TV, it’s always the most famous guest actor). When things were resolved, I liked thinking back through the clues: What did the script give away that I missed? What were the clever bits of misdirection? The shows became more edgy and sophisticated over time: “Hill Street Blues,” “CSI,” “NCIS” and the endless iterations of “Law & Order.”
This might seem a brain-candy distraction. But I’m convinced it’s one of the ways I absorbed the elements of story: quick action at beginning, compressed backstory, character development, forward trajectory of plot, scenes and dialog.
Of late, I’ve been exploring British TV police procedurals. An affordable subscription to Acorn and BritBox could keep an armchair sleuth in the armchair way too often and long. But talk about edgy! I just finished the “Luther” series. Batman has nothing on the dark demons of John Luther.
Then there are the British “cozies,” which are less gripping but somehow draw me in, mostly because I develop an affection for the characters. (Unlike Jessica Fletcher of “Murder She Wrote,” who annoyed me long before Cabot Cove ran out of residents to get murdered.) And while I may be imagining it, the British procedurals seem to weave in a literary element seldom found in American TV — or maybe that’s just the accents. The quick-quip chatter can also be deliciously wry.
A recent indulgence was the first season of “Grantchester,” a PBS Masterpiece Mystery. Geordie Koeting (Robson Green) is a rumpled, cranky, no-nonsense detective. As happens in these things, he inherits as an unofficial partner the new village vicar, Sidney Chambers. (James Norton). Chambers is young, dashing and a more than a bit of a player. Both men are haunted by their service in World War II, which adds the occasional intrigue to their behaviors.
But it’s the development of their unlikely relationship that makes the show for me. I was all in about 30 minutes into Episode 1, which a dour Koeting watched a recalcitrant witness go all gooey and chatty in a quick exchange with Chambers. When the conversation ends, Koeting scowls at Chambers:
“You know something.”
Chambers: “People feel they can tell me things.”
Koeting: “You’re lucky. No one feels they can tell me anything.”
It was a delicious moment as I thought about my own reporting career. I thought of the times I was Koeting, which no one wanted to tell me anything. But there also were times when, like Chambers, people seemed eager to spill, sometimes revealing information I really didn’t need — or want.
That point comes up a bit later in the episode:
Koeting: “People talk to you, you say.”
Chambers: “Entirely too much sometimes.”
Which exactly summed up my thoughts: Hmmmm.