Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Agatha Raisin

Ashley Jensen as Agatha.
Premise:  After making enough money to "get out of the rat race," Agatha Raisin sells her successful public relations firm and relocates from London to the quaint village of Carsely. The fortyish Agatha (Ashley Jensen) has a hard time fitting in among the local residents. So, she decides to win the Annual Fete and Quiche Baking Competition to become more popular. Of course, Agatha can't cook--so she purchases her quiche from a London bakery and wines and dines the contest judge and his wife. To her dismay, Agatha loses the competition. Even worse, though, the judge eats a slice of her quiche that night and dies from poisoning. This does not endear her to the townsfolk, one of whom scoffs: "Nobody ever died in the village before you arrived." Agatha, with the help of friend Roy (Matthew Horne) and "cleaning girl" Gemma (Katy Wix), decides to solve the murder. In doing so, she finds a new calling as Carsely's resident amateur sleuth. Other regulars include Detective Inspector Bill Wong (Matt McCooey), who has a "cougar crush" on Agatha, and James Lacey (Jamie Glover), a handsome neighbor who also becomes interested in Mrs. Raisin.

Running Time: 60 minutes (pilot was 90 minutes).

Status:  The 90-minute pilot aired in December 2014 with the regular series starting in 2016. Eight episodes have been broadcast to date. They can be streamed on Acorn TV and are also available on DVD in the U.S.

Production Notes:  Marion Chesney, writing under the pseudonym of M.C. Beaton, wrote Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death in 1992. It was the first of 27 Agatha Raisin books (as of 2016). After solving numerous murder cases as an amateur, Agatha sets up her own detective agency, Raisin Investigations, in the fifteenth book in the series (Agatha Raison and the Deadly Dance). Penelope Keith played Agatha Raisin in 19 episodes of a BBC Radio 4 series that was broadcast from 2003-2006.

Our Review: The 90-minute pilot is first-rate entertainment, effortlessly blending mystery, comedy, and distinctive characters amidst a picturesque English village. The subsequent episodes can't sustain that level of quality, though some of them (e.g., "The Wellspring of Death," "Witch of Wyckhadden") come awfully close. Part of the challenge is that it's hard to adapt a full-length novel into a compressed 45-minute running time without sacrificing plot or character development. The latter is what separates Agatha Raisin from other mystery series, for our heroine wants to find love as well as the murderer. Scottish actress Ashley Jensen makes a captivating amateur sleuth, her plucky nature masking her vulnerabilities. She receives marvelous support from Katy Wix and Matthew Horne (as amusing as he was in Gavin and Stacey). Jamie Glover is convincing, too, playing Agatha's on and off love interest James Lacey (who, frankly, doesn't deserve Aggie). We're hoping that a second season of Agatha Raisin is in the works.

Grade: A-.

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