Piet Van der Valk is sort of your standard TV (or movie) detective.
He’s handsome and brooding; he’s single and lives on a boat. Handsome detectives often brood; they also live in odd places – boats or bars or backrooms or such.
What’s unusual about him, though, is that he’s:
1) On PBS, in a smart and deeply layered show. “Masterpiece: Van der Volk” (shown here) is 9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, 20 and 27). You could call it the first scripted show of the broadcast TV season; it’s a good one … and a huge jump over this summer’s disappointing “Endeavour.”
2) Working in Amsterdam. That offers intriguing backdrops for these three, movie-length stories.
Almost everything about “Van der Valk” is British. That includes the original novelist (the late Nicolas Freeling), the producers and the stars.
But the Amsterdam setting adds something extra. When was the last time you saw a series open with a high-speed bicycle chase?
The backdrops are attractive and varied. The second week spends a lot of time in gorgeous old buildings; the third concludes in a high-rise restaurant with a coldly industrial design.
Marc Warren, fresh from playing the treacherous Captain Parker in “Beecham House,” stars as Piet, a police detective. He solves crimes and attracts women, but rarely seems happy; we don’t know why until the final minutes of the third week.
A previous “Van der Valk” was on British TV for three seasons in the 1970s and two in the’90s, but this one changes most of the supporting characters.
Now Piet’s key colleague is Lucienne Hassell (Maimie McCoy, shown here with Warren). Like him, she’s great in a fight; like him, she’s had wobbly romances with women.
He respects her, but has doubts about the guys he works with. One keeps spouting research, another keeps flirting with any nearby woman, the third is a wizened medical examiner.
Each of those seems, at first, like an over-the-top cliché. By the end of the third story, most have added surprising depth.
The first film is particularly good. It starts with action, adds some humor as a newcomer joins the staff, then digs into a complicated tale.
The second tries too hard, wading into a tangle of identities and illusions. The third sort of does a cheat – having two unrelated stories peak at the same time.
We might grumble about that … except that it ends with strong moments for virtually every character. By the end, we definitely hope “Van der Valk” will be back; for “Endeavour” and “Beecham House,” we weren’t so sure.