So you're watching a mystery -- maybe a film, maybe a TV show. These BBC projects can fall somewhere in between, and the new-to-KCET series "Inspector George Gently" -- airing Sunday at 9 p.m. -- does just that. Like many BBC crime procedurals, it's lengthy, it's littered with more red herrings than fish cannery, and sometimes those accents can make the exchanges between cop and suspect tough to understand. Never fear: KCET's online feature for "Inspector George Gently" is here to answer any questions you might have about the series.
First up, the pilot, "Gently Go Man."
Who is this George Gently?
He's a veteran London detective who's retired from the force after the recent death of his wife. He has spent the better part of his career attempting to dismantle a London-based crime ring, but his work is what caused the death of his wife.
How does she die?
Gently and Mrs. Gently are returning home from a night at the opera when she's run down in the street. This scene, intercut with the funeral service, opens up the series. His retirement, however, is short-lived, when his informant tips him off that a murder in Northumberland could have a connection to Joe Webster, the crime kingpin who ordered the murder of Mrs. Gently. Our investigator hightails it north post-haste.
So he's a rather morose fellow?
No, surprisingly. The lead actor, Martin Shaw, plays Gently with a very human mix of humor and sadness. Make no mistake: He's very serious about his job and his ultimate end goal, but he's not above cracking a joke -- especially about the moral or mental failings of the various crooks and shady characters he runs across. Shaw strikes a proper balance.
What's the murder of the week?
Billy Lister, a member of a Northumberland biker gang, dies when his motorcycle slams into the pavement on a rural road. There's enough evidence to suggest that a second party caused the accident, however, and there's no shortage of suspects. Foremost among them is Ricky Deeming, a fellow member of the gang whose scarf is found at the scene of the crime. But Gently suspects that the item could have been planted to avert suspicion away from the real killer. Billy, you see, was running dexamphetamine throughout the countryside and had reason to make some dangerous enemies. Furthermore, his home situation is suspicious. His young mother, Valerie, claims to be a widow of a merchant marine, yet the Listers live rather more comfortably than a widow's pension should allow. Finally, there's the matter of Billy being gay. It's no secret, but it didn't endear him to the locals, including some of the fellow gang members. Gently, it should be noted, has a rather progressive attitude toward homosexuality for an older man living in 1960s England.
So it's a period piece, then?
Yes, but it's no "Mad Men." Aside from an abundance of tobacco, there's not too much about "Inspector George Gently" to make it a product of its setting, at least in the pilot. The fact that it takes place in the 1960s probably results from the creators' desire to keep the show true to its source material, the 1961 Alan Hunter novel Gently Go Man.
And Gently is alone in all this?
No, he's paired with an ambitious local cop, Det. Sergeant John Bacchus (Lee Ingleby, who played Stan Shunpike in "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban"). Bacchus thinks aiding Gently in this case will get him a promotion to the London force. He's not untalented, but this son-in-law of the local chief constable hasn't fully developed his detective skills. Gently cautiously takes Bacchus under his wing, both because he seems to enjoy mocking Bacchus's fumbles and because Gently eventually trusts that Bacchus isn't one of the many British cops on the crime syndicate's payroll.
What do Gently and Bacchus find?
Lawrence Elton, a third member of the biker gang also gets killed -- tossed off a cliff, minus an eyebrow and a fingernail. He'd been tortured. Another new face in town also seems to have roughed up Gently's informant, so they conclude that Webster's syndicate is interfering with the investigation. The same shady character shows up at Valerie Lister's house, making threats before fleeing when our detectives show up. Valerie admits that Billy's father is still alive: It's Joe Webster, who has funded Valerie and his son all this time. And that new face in town? Again, it's Joe Webster. Gently concludes that Lawrence Elton caused Billy's accident, presumably because Lawrence resented Billy's homosexuality, and that Webster killed Elton in revenge.
Oh. Well, that's a lot.
There's more. Webster meets up with a female acquaintance of Billy's who spills the news that Billy liked boys. Mr. Webster is less than understanding. After icing the poor lass, he goes searching for Ricky Deeming, his late son's boyfriend, believing that Ricky's perversion ultimately cased his son's death. Webster finds Deeming and prepares to torture Ricky in the same manner he did Lawrence Elton. He almost gets to him with the blowtorch when Gently arrives at the scene and shoots Webster in the shoulder. Despite Bacchus encouragement, Gently refrains from firing a killshot.
So it's case closed?
Almost. Before the cops take Webster away, Bacchus spins a tale specifically designed to haunt Webster during his prison sentence: He tells him that Lawrence Elton, Webster's first victim, was Billy's twin and therefore his son as well. Webster heads off thinking that he lost not only Billy but also another son... that he himself killed.
Wow. That's pretty twisted.
Yep. The show can get dark.
So that name... "Inspector Gently"...
I know, it sounds like the set-up for a "That's what she said" joke. Hopefully when we check in on Gently and Bacchus's adventures next week, the puerile humor of the phrase "Inspector Gently" will have worn off.
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Martin Shaw stars as commander George Gently, an incorruptible, uncompromising cop transplanted from London's Scotland Yard to England's North Country in the mid-1960's.