As our TV sets fill up with British crime-solvers, some traditions persist.
At home, these people are solemn and solitary. That has continued – with occasional exceptions – from Sherlock Holmes to Hercule Poirot, Inspector Morse and more.
And it’s true of Max Arnold in “The Chelsea Detective” series (shown here), on the Acorn streaming service. “I think he’s a born-again melancholic,” Adrian Scarborough, who plays him, told the Television Critics Association. “Putting him … in the middle of the Thames, on his little houseboat, was very deliberate.”
That’s part of an overload of crime tales from England and its former colonies:
–The four movie-length “Chelsea” tales are Mondays this month on www.acorn.tv … which also has new Canadian “Murdoch Mysteries.” Coming are a British Jane Seymour series and then a South African one.
–Those same “Murdoch Mysteries” air at 7 p.m. ET Saturdays on the Ovation cable channel.
— The Britbox streaming service has just added “Murder in Provence” and the “Sister Boniface Mysteries.” Next is a witty three-parter – “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” – from Hugh Laurie.
— And PBS often packs Sundays with mysteries. It launches the 10-part “Before We Die” on March 20, with more planned for the summer (“Endeavour,” “Grantchester,” “Guilt”) and the fall and beyond (“Miss Scarlet and the Duke,” “Van Der Volk,” “Magpie Mysteries”).
“America does pretty well” at mysteries, said Scarborough, who considers the old “Columbo” series to be “brilliant.” But mostly, this is a British specialty.
As “Chelsea” begins, Max’s wife has ended their marriage. He moved onto a tiny houseboat, where he cooks and tries his keyboards. “Playing the piano is always a good, melancholy way of thinking,” said. Scarborough. “The cogs are whirring in there, while he’s playing a little bit of Beethoven.”
The show follows another tradition, with mismatched police partners. “Max and Priya are on such opposite ends of the spectrum that they complement each other in their weird way,” said Sonita Henry, who plays Priya Shamsie.
Priya is tall and thin; Max is neither. Her hair is ebony, his is red-ish. She has a warm marriage, a baby and optimism, he doesn’t. “For all of his downtrodden, slightly depressive ways,” Scarborough said, “on the other end of the spectrum he has somebody who’s bright, go-getting, very very sharp (and) can run considerably faster than he can.”
Scarborough, 53 and 5-foot-4, may be remembered by Americans as the incompetent Dr. Fuchs in “Sanditon.” Henry, 45 and 5-foot-8, was a “Krypton” cult leader. Now they’re a team, solving crimes in a mismatched, merry/melancholy way.