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Case Histories


Get on the 'Case.'

Rod Lott November 30th, 2011

Adapting Kate Atkinson's literate mystery novels couldn't have been easy, but the BBC series "Case Histories" did it not only admirably, but wonderfully. Fresh from its American airings on PBS, all six episodes have been collected into a double-disc set with infinite repeat value.

casehistories

That's right: Even with the solutions known, viewers can enjoy it all over again because of its strong stories, characters and acting, particularly by Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy of the "Harry Potter" franchise) as divorced cop-turned-private detective Jackson Brodie. 'Tis a joy to see such misery.

Each pair of eps adapts one Atkinson book, in chronological order — 2004's "Case Histories," 2006's "One Good Turn" and, because that deserves another, 2008's "When Will There Be Good News?" — so it's like watching three two-hour movies back to back. And it's bloody likely you'll want to.

Brodie excels at finding missing persons. In the first, it's a girl who disappeared three decades ago, and whose sisters presume is dead (shades of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"). In the third, it's a single mom with a worried nanny — and this one he pursues after getting hit by a train. And in the second, it's ... well, not so much finding as it is avoid being found; that may be why its plot of road-rage aftermath renders this one pretty good, as opposed to the others' pretty damned outstanding.

Weaved into these main stories are other whodunits and whatthehellhappeneds, involving a dead Russian hooker, a lawyer's daughter being slain on her first day at work, a junkie ragamuffin, the requisite cheating spouse and so on. There's also his dealings with his semi-toxic ex-wife (Kirsty Mitchell, TV's "New Tricks"), quality time with his adorable daughter (newcomer Millie Innes), squabbling with his secretary (Zawe Ashton, "Blitz"), and maybe a chance at love with one of his clients, a daffy actress (Natasha Little, "The Boys Are Back").

If it sounds like there's a lot going on, yeah, there is. But the creative team rises to the challenge by finding a quick but unhurried pace, and sticking to it. A sense of cohesion arises with Brodie's flashbacks to a childhood tragedy (perhaps too often, really), but each two-parter could stand on its own; I just can't fathom why you'd want to do that.

At its best, which is 70 percent of the whole, I'd put "Case Histories" up there at a "Sherlock" level of greatness. Isaacs nails his flawed hero so perfectly that when the six hours is up, it’s hard to say goodbye. —Rod Lott

 
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