Thursday, October 13, 2011

Case Histories: Jackson Brodie, One Detective, Two Last Names

Jackson Brodie jogs, listens to sad music, mismanages his personal life, and agonizes over his tragic family history. Occasionally, he does a spot of detective work. Fortunately, DC Louise Munroe just swoons over him, because the former Edinburgh cop has burned a lot of bridges, both on the force and with his ex. Indeed, there will be a lot of brooding in store for viewers with the premiere of Case Histories this Sunday on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery.

Based on the novels by Kate Atkinson, each nearly two hour episode introduces several ostensibly separate cases, which usually turn out to be interrelated in various ways. However, the first eponymously titled installment rather forces the strands together. Yet, it is Brodie’s backstory that really takes center stage. The divorced gumshoe tries to be a good father to ten year-old-ish Marlie, but he is always distracted by work.

Initially, he is hired to solve the decades old disappearance of a young girl by her two ragingly neurotic grown sisters. Shortly thereafter, a grieving father engages Brodie to find his daughter’s murderer, whom he assumes acted on a random violent impulse. A bit later, a nurse convinces Brodie to find the sister she turned her back on years ago. At least she is considerate enough to seduce him first.

One Good Turn, the middle episode, is somewhat stronger as a crime drama, but it indulges in far too many flashbacks to a fateful series of events in Brodie’s childhood. On one of his many long distance runs along the picturesque Scottish coast, Brodie spies a corpse caught sinking in the surf. Unable to pull her from the undertow, Brodie follows a handful of sketchy leads to a dodgy cleaning service using women trafficked from Russia. Reluctantly, he also babysits Martin Canning, a mystery novelist spooked by his involvement in an apparently simple road rage incident. Of course, somehow everything ties back to Russia. Even Canning has some dark history there, which Adam Godley reveals in Case’s best guest-starring turn.

With Marlie and her Mum temporarily living in New Zealand and Christmas fast approaching, the concluding When Will There Be Good News promises to reach Wallander levels of angst. To make matters worse, Brodie is considerably banged up in freak train accident. It would have been far more severe had teenaged nanny Reggie not come along at the right time. In return, she wants Brodie to find her missing friend and employer. Meanwhile, a messy adultery case just will not go away. Easily the most cohesive narrative of the series, Good News is also far more deft and disciplined in its use of flashbacks from the past.

Soon to be seen on NBC’s upcoming Awake, Isaacs is evidently catnip for women in their late 40’s to early 50’s. To give him due credit, he also looks credible taking a beating like a man. Frankly, he has a suitably intense screen presence. We just get a little too much of his guilt-ridden moping. Dude, you’re a pretty big guy. Go hit someone.

While Case Histories picks up momentum as the series advances, the drama with Brodie’s family and DC Munroe remain constant speed bumps. Frankly, Brodie private should have been more private. A mostly okay British mystery series, but nowhere near as cool as Zen, as cinematic as Sherlock, or as endearing as a warhorse like Lewis, Case Histories begins this Sunday (10/16) as part of the current season of Masterpiece Mystery.