Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
DCI Banks: PBS’s Newest British Detective
Yorkshire DCI Alan Banks is an avid jazz listener. From this we can deduce he is a man of
principle, used to doing things the hard way.
His Detective Sergeant respects and is frustrated by that (the
principles, not the music). He might be
tightly wound, but in the words of a superior officer, he “is the least worst
man for the job.” Based on Peter
Robinson’s novels, BBC Worldwide’s DCI
Banks enters into syndication on PBS stations across the country this month,
reaching an impressive 77% market clearance (promo here).
DCI Banks starts with an
apparent ending. In The Aftermath, two patrol officers responding to a domestic disturbance
discover a serial killer’s chamber of horrors.
One of the officers is killed in the ensuing struggle and the murderer
is comatose. For acting DCI Banks this
is no happy ending. After fruitless
months of investigation, one young woman is still missing. The big question is what role did his
battered wife play in her husband’s crimes?
Already stretched to the breaking point, he is in no mood for the
internal investigation headed by the ambitious DS Annie Cabbot.
an involuntary vacation and an unexpected promotion to full DCI, Banks returns
for a standard but well executed game of cat-and-mouse in Playing with Fire. Despite
their rocky start, Banks and the freshly transferred Cabbot have developed a
strong working relationship. Yet, her
questionable romantic involvement with a figure involved in the case threatens
to undo everything.
the second episode of the first full season, Friend of the Devil is easily the best of Banks’ first two full seasons.
Returning to a notorious scene from the pilot Aftermath, Friend of the Devil delves into some dark, painful
psychological recesses. It is a case
that hits close to home for the force and keeps on hitting. In fact, there will be considerable turnover in
the Yorkshire CID over the course of the series.
Cold is the Grave entangles Banks in
a messy intersection of police and family business when his high-handed superintendant
asks Banks to unofficially find his runaway daughter and bring her home. It turns out, the London vice lord she had
shacked up with may somehow be involved in an armed robbery-turned cold blooded
murder back home. Although it would seem
like it would take a lot of elbow grease to force these strands together,
Robert Murphy’s adaptation of Robinson’s novel does so rather neatly and
shoe is on Banks’ foot in Strange Affair
when his estranged brother is ensnared in a murder case. With a suddenly pregnant Cabbot on the verge
of a leave of absence, Banks meets his new DI, Helen Morton, under slightly embarrassing
circumstances. He is the prime witness
in her first case. Socially awkward,
even compared to Banks, their professional chemistry will develop slowly. However, they synch-up quite nicely in Dry Bones that Dream and Innocent Dreams, two traditional
procedurals that both have nicely turned third act twists, at least by
British mystery fans, DCI Banks might
be closest in tone to the Inspector
Lynley Mysteries, but its best episodes, like Aftermath and Friend of the
Devil, approach Wire in the Blood’s murky
psychological terrain. TV veteran
Stephen Tompkinson’s Banks is somewhat like Inspector Lewis, but with more
edge. (Evidently, Yorkshire crimes are more
brutal than those in Oxford.) Airing as
either 45 minute two-parters or in ninety minute blocks, the entire series is consistently
tight and tense. Notable directors
include James Hawes (Aftermath), who
helmed Masterpiece’s entertaining 39 Steps and Marek Losey (Cold is the Grave), grandson of Joseph.
Driven by Topkinson’s intense middle-aged
rectitude, DCI Banks episodes are
produced with above average intelligence and are addictive like popcorn. A worthy addition to the ranks of favorite
PBS-BBC detectives, DCI Banks is
easily recommended for mystery fans when it begins its syndicated run on many
PBS outlets this weekend (including WLIW tonight—1/12), so check those local listings.
Labels: DCI Banks, PBS