Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vera: Series One

Honestly, I can't remember how I discovered Vera, I think it was a Netflix recommendation. Possibly because I liked Sherlock, who knows.

But I have been particularly interested in discovering new mystery series, in whatever medium, that feature older women detectives. Obviously there's Miss Marple, and I haven't really delved into that yet. But I'm tired of the typical mystery show cliches with the men always in the lead. And usually with some hot young thing that's impossibly in some expert role but never seems to have the brains for it. I'm looking at your casting decisions, CSI. You're constantly saying these extremely young, traditionally attractive women are experts in their field when that field takes 30 years post graduate work or something.

That's a tangent for another day though (and really, let's establish up front that I love the original CSI and have seen almost all of it). The thing that I love about Vera is how absolutely non-traditional it is. Vera Stanhope is not just an older woman as the lead detective. She's a woman in charge of an entire precinct, so she has a position of power. She's not a mother figure, she's actually quite acerbic and tough on everyone. And I'm not talking tough love either, I'm talking yelling and throwing things. She doesn't come across as a prodigy that people begrudgingly respect because even though she's a woman, she's still so brilliant. And the way they dress and style Brenda Blethyn, she's definitely not getting ahead on her looks.

She's just a good, solid policewoman who does her job at all costs and does it well. You get the sense that she rose in the ranks through sheer determination, along with a significant amount of skill. In short, she's exactly the way that male characters are usually written in this type of role, and yet there's no big deal really ever made of it. I can't recall a single instance of somebody being insubordinate because she's a woman, or even really commenting on it.

Her partner IS a hot young thing, but he's not a love interest in the slightest. He's actually religious, married, and his wife has their third kid in the first episode. He's a father and a family man, and always much more polite and respectful than Vera. It's a pretty distinct role reversal, and the actor, David Leon, plays the part extremely well. All of the acting on the show is top notch.

But the best part is the mystery - it's actually a mystery. I've talked before in my reviews of Castle (I think) about how I adore the genre but it gets a bit hard for me to love sometimes because I've read too much and usually can figure out the ending. But on Vera, there's no huge telegraphing of the main clue so that the audience doesn't miss it. The story progresses normally, the information is given to us with the same weight and importance across the board, and it's not the thing that was obviously meant to be forgotten because it was portrayed so unimportantly that you know it's important that ends up being the main part of the solution.

I've usually forgotten that part or dismissed it because it's all just so matter of fact. And because the show is about Vera, and Joe, and the rest of the detectives in Northumbria. You're too busy paying attention to the character development, which is so well done, that when you remember the mystery it's because the show is revealing the killer and you're just along for the ride.

The episodes are all very long, because that's the way the British do their tv. It's really more a series of tv movies than a series, and season one is only four episodes long. But they're all well worth it, and I wish that we had more stuff like this on American tv.