So long as I’ve been watching them, the Brits have done televised mysteries exceedingly well.
Granted, I haven’t seen them all, but I’ve seen enough to known that theirs is award-winning formula that seeks to bring quality material to the small screen, and ABOVE SUSPICION is no different. The program – it recently aired its fourth series in January, 2012 – are based on Lynda La Plante’s novels of Detective Anna Travis. While I’ve not read any of the books, I’m certainly inclined based on the quality of narrative presented in release of the first two series on DVD.
In short, Ms. La Plante’s novels focus on the cases of (rookie) Detective Anna Travis (played by the adorable Kelly Reilly). Along for the ride are several significant supporting characters, including DCI James Langton (Ciaran Hinds), DI Mike Lewis (Shaun Dingwall), and a handful of recurring police players. Together, they explore cases involving serial killers and 'pros', as well as a maniac who may be preying on beautiful young women .
Particularly winning is Ms. Reilly, who subdues the usual big-city-sexiness so common with female leads of the U.S.-based crime shows beneath a layer of small-town charm: her hair is unkempt most of the time, and, indeed, her coworkers of the first installment remark how she wears practically the same outfit to work every day. Her first day on the job, she traipses through a muddy crime scene in fashionable high heels, only to end up throwing up and fainting upon viewing her first corpse. Still, she’s a comely lead, and she brings a kind of naïve, wholesome charm to stories otherwise weighted with dark and bloody matters: psychosis, murder, and incest.
Balancing out Reilly’s naiveté is Mr. Hinds as her superior, DCI James Langton. Clearly, he’s seen and done it all as a member of the police force, and, yes, that includes his boss, Commander Jane Leigh (Nadia Cameron-Blakely). He’s engaged in an inappropriate workplace relationship – though occasionally it appears he’s done so precisely to make things easier for him at work – and, as rumors persist, it looks like he’s willing to again with Detective Travis. He’s drawn to her – in part due to the fact that he worked for years with her father – and, together, they share a chemistry driven far more out of professional courtesy than it ever is romantic desire.
And what would a great procedural be without great villains? Of course, I can’t go into any detail here without spoiling it, so I’ll leave it with a simple, benign observation: they’re equally vile, equally despicable, both backed with convincing performances by the talent involved.
If there’s any shortcoming here, then it would logically fall back to the source material – the novels of Ms. La Plante – to understand them. Perhaps, a strong case could be made that the villains here are all, predictably, white well-to-do individuals. Clearly, crime is rampant across all levels of society, and maybe – maybe – it’d be nice to see that represented in the stories we tell culturally. In the end, maybe the author is simply trying to reflect that the affluent are more likely to have the means AND the money to engage in some pretty nefarious scenarios; hopefully, I’ll get the chance to see the other two series and learn that Ms. La Plante’s villains leaned toward a different cultural and economic persuasion. Still, the stories work, and that’s why I’d wholeheartedly be interested in seeing more from La Plante Productions.
The program comes from ITV Studios and La Plante Productions, and the disc is produced by Acorn Media. The first installment – “Above Suspicion” – is a two-part series that aired in 2009 and was instantly dubbed “a younger, sassier successor to ‘Prime Suspect.’” (It’s important to note that Ms. La Plante wrote the teleplays for the first and third series of “Prime Suspect.”) “Above Suspicion: The Red Dahlia” is a three-part series that aired in 2010, and it deals with a killer who’s copycatting the US’s infamous Black Dahlia murders. Both series have exceptional video and audio qualities. Additionally, each installment is given a brief ‘behind-the-scenes’ featurette as well as cast interviews. I will state that my player experienced some mild difficulty in correctly accessing the disc’s menus – when trying to view the ‘Episodes Directory,’ I was instead shown only a black screen with two boxes for selection but no text appeared in the boxes. It was easy to work around, but I thought it worth mentioning in the event that any other viewer have the same issue.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. Smart and simmering, ABOVE SUSPICION couples elements of the effective police procedural along with well-groomed character dramas to produce a winning contrast between the people who’ll stop at nothing to break the law versus those who’ll stop at nothing to catch them.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Acorn Media provided me with a DVD screener copy of ABOVE SUSPICION: SET 1 for the expressed purposes of completing this review.