“Being born’s a hell of a lottery.”
The new series of Death in Paradise, which is, as I have said before, essentially Poirot except with an Englishman instead of a Belgian and set in the (vaguely) modern-day Caribbean instead of Thirties Britain, kicks off with a classic twist on a locked-room mystery. On the eve of the Saint-Marie festival of the dead (which hasn’t been done at all before, of course), a wealthy businessman is murdered at a séance. The twist? Everyone in the room was holding hands at the time, and no-one could have entered without their noticing.
Of course, for anyone who’s ever read (or seen) Murder on the Orient Express, there’s an obvious conclusion to be leapt to here. But apparently none of the Saint-Marie detectives have even a passing interest in Agatha Christie (ironically enough), or, in fact, any kind of logical thinking, since no-one raises the possibility that perhaps everyone present at the séance was in some way guilty at any point. Because this isn’t a mystery for our fictional detectives; it’s a mystery for the viewer, and a fairly straightforward mystery at that. There are, after all, only a few possibilities here.
In some ways, it is precisely this predictableness that makes Death in Paradise such a popular show – it’s cosy, sanitised, non-violent, gently mentally taxing, in sharp opposition to the graphic explosions of shows like Silent Witness. It’s also, of course, mildly funny: in this first episode, the main humour is provided by the temporary replacement of Fidel – who, you may remember, went off to be a sergeant or some such – by the Commissioner, who, rather amusingly, knows politics, whereas Duane only knows the local rules of extortion and bribery. It’s a juxtaposition that reminds me a little of the Game of Thrones episode, Garden of Bones, which I reviewed last night: revealingly if fleetingly pushing its characters into uncomfortable places.
OK, I just compared Death in Paradise to Game of Thrones and I don’t know what that means. The point is that even comedy like this can do interesting characterisation if it wants to. Unfortunately, it seems to be veering off into rather hackneyed romantic territory between DI Humphrey and Camille, which looks irritatingly as if it might retread Ben Miller territory. No-one can just be friends any more, of course.
And this is the flipside of Death in Paradise‘s cheerful predictableness: it’s actually very dull after about five minutes. Even getting through one episode is difficult because there’s no kind of investment in any of the characters, or in the mystery, for that matter. At least Poirot’s leetle grey cells were eccentric and unpredictable enough to hold some kind of interest, however easy the mystery was to solve; Kris Marshall’s Humphrey, by contrast, is pale and uninteresting, and his Let Me Tell You A Story approach is profoundly unconvincing, too palpably designed to hold the viewer in suspense rather than actually advance the plot. This is just deeply irritating, and faintly lazy too.
But, you know, there’s nothing better on on a Thursday evening, so what can you do.