Sunday, August 17, 2014

Rosemary & Thyme - a British detective TV serial with a difference - we need more like this

Youtube is a land of possibilities. Last month while browsing I hit a video link by mistake. As it started playing, I realized it was a recording of a British television serial. While browsing Youtube I accidentally hit lot of links but after the video plays for a while I lose my patience and close them.

This time I couldn't close the video. It drew me in as the story progressed and thinking that I would close it after I saw a little more, I ended up watching the whole episode. One of the things I couldn't have enough of was the locales it was shot in. You will just fall in love with the the English countryside, old estates, mansions etc. in it.

I Googled to check if my guess that it was a British serial was correct – and Wiki informed that my guess was not off the mark.

Rosemary and Thyme, which ran from 2003 to 2007, is a British detective tele-serial with a difference.  Rosemary and Thyme, two middle-aged women, one a former police whose husband has left her for a younger girl and the other a spinster, are professional gardeners. Their gardening assignments take them to different parts of England and beyond, mainly towns and countryside where we expect to find gardens or enough space to build one from scratch. And a murder takes place in the setting and Rosemary and Thyme find themselves solving the murder mystery even as they work on their assignment.

The plot lines are quite simple or only so much complex as much can be handled in a 30 minute episode. As is the convention of detective stories, there are some obvious suspects, some red herrings, some, minor plot diversions to neutralize the plot speed, some British humor and the murderer is mostly the person you are least supposed to suspect.

After watching some episodes you will start figuring out the culprit….But despite this simplicity there is something which will make you want to return and watch another episode – it’s the mesmerizing locales which give it a laidback feel and a little more . I have seen some American sitcoms; the crime ones are too gory and the comedy, too haa haa hii hii.  Rosemary and Thyme is quite a departure – gentle, relaxed, old-fashioned. There is another kind of departure from the American stuff – prudery.

Generally crime sitcoms are expected to have some sex in some form, either in the way of sexual innuendos or direct sex scenes, Rosemary and Thyme is stoutly celibate: even mild kissing scenes, included only when strictly warranted by the plot, are flitting and shown with a frowning attitude. I have not seen too many British TV serials or films but have read some 19th and 20th century British novels – and even in them sex rarely finds a mention.

So it could be British restraint but it could also be because its target audience is not young people - a fact which is further confirmed by the middle-aged main characters it casts.

In India there were good detective tele serials in the 80s and 90s based on detective novels – Feluda, Bomkesh etc. Alas, the quality of mystery tele flicks has declined in last 10 years or so. They are mostly too glossy and robotic – without the slow build up and the subtle cultural nuances (dialogues, attire etc) and a credible detective (who has to be a good actor) at the centre.

Some of you may say Bomkesh and Feluda come from a different era and are too sophisticated and culturally rooted to have a mass appeal. I may be reluctant to admit this - as a whodunit works on the strength of the yarn and of course the credulity of the person playing the sleuth; but if you really want a light ‘low on substance and high on style’ stuff, then Karamchand (played by Pankaj Kapur in the 80s, if you remember. It still plays on Sony)  will work for you – an investigator at the center with his stylized idiosyncrasies with a lady assistant.   
But according to me, where Rosemary and Thyme scores above the conventional sleuth flicks is here you have two ladies who are not like conventional investigators. They solve cases almost accidentally after stumbling, fumbling and wrong-guessing. This trial and error or amateurish touch where the detective doesn't intimidate the audience with the pretensions of intellectual superiority – is a departure from the conventional detective who constantly patronizes. Not that this has not been tried elsewhere but with Rosemary and Thyme everything seems to come together.
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