Sunday, 14 February 2021

TV review: Death in Paradise, series 9 ep 2 (‘A Murder in Portrait’), BBC (2020)

Isn’t is odd that the only other episode of this show I’ve reviewed also had an artwork as a plot device? I think it’s awfully funny. More than a coincidence, it’s a sign.

In that earlier episode the detective inspector (Kris Marshall) drove badly while the detective sergeant (Sara Martins) suffered in silence. In ‘A Murder in Portrait’ the detective inspector (Ardal O'Hanlon) gins up his confidence to go on a date and the detective sergeant (Aude Legastelois) indulgently encourages him. The dynamics operating between these two dramatic personae have improved, and no longer is there the temptation for the viewer to see creepy romantic possibilities.

Which is a relief. What hasn’t changed is the quality of the art. In both cases the paintings are pretty dreadful. In ‘A Murder in Portrait’ the artist – Donna Harman (Louise Brealey) – is a hopped up professional who invites criticism due to her threatening to ditch her gallerist (Barbara Flynn). Harman’s liking of energy drinks – the can of Boom Ting she uses becomes a point of fascination for Jack Mooney and Madeleine Dumas as they go about their work assisted by Ruby Patterson (Shyko Amos) and Officer Hooper (Tobi Bakare) – serves to muddy the waters as the police try to link it to the murder, but the fact that it hadn’t been tampered with prior to Harman’s collapse make their job a lot harder than it might’ve been.

As usual Amos adds piquancy and lustre to a rather plodding plot and despite Mooney’s interest in Anna (Nina Wadia, pictured) the sparks didn’t fly for me when the two go on a date-cruise around the island. In addition, Mooney’s propensity to talk to a photograph of his dead wife felt flattish rather than pathetic, so the point of this device was lost on me.

More credible was P.J.’s childhood attachment to mice, Harman’s pet mouse Rothko (named after a famous American painter – who doesn’t like the luminous colour-scapes of Mark Rothko?) giving Patterson a chance to rib her colleague insistently and for the episode to suffer a comfortable conclusion as the gang get together around a table in Catherine Bordey's (Elizabeth Bourgine) bar, a resort for the ensemble – for this, after all, is an ensemble production – to resolve any slight differences or to celebrate any small victories.

The show’s ability to prioritise the ephemeral highs and lows of ordinary life being its major attraction for me, at least. I appreciate the gentle humour it retails in, its whimsical nature, and its overall kindness. I think this is the secret to its enduring popularity.

Not many shows go for so long. I just wish they’d find a proper artist to make the props.

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