Case Number 16428

PIE IN THE SKY: SERIES 1

Acorn Media // 1993 // 488 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // May 21st, 2009

The Charge

Henry: "Complete strangers are going to come here and eat my food."
Margaret: "I know. Extraordinary, isn't it?"

Opening Statement

Let's see: a pieman solving mysteries while running a restaurant. That premise might sound familiar, but Henry Crabbe's specialty pie is steak and kidney, and he never raised any of his staffers from the dead. If you watch Pie in the Sky, you're more likely to be reminded of another detective show from WitzEnd, its British production company, starting with the opening that pans shelves lined with cookery books and coppery books, just as Lovejoy's opening pans the antiques its protagonist loves so much. Like Lovejoy, Henry Crabbe has a magical touch with the occupation he's passionate about -- cooking, in this case -- and that profession factors into the series' cases. Unlike Lovejoy, Crabbe was a copper, so Pie in the Sky has a little extra grit in the recipe.

Facts of the Case

Pie in the Sky: Series 1 contains 10 episodes:

Disc One
* "The Best of Both Worlds"
On the eve of his retirement to open the Pie in the Sky restaurant, Henry Crabbe (Richard Griffiths, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) is placed on suspension for an inquiry. Assistant Chief Constable Fisher (Malcolm Sinclair, V for Vendetta) sees that indefinite status as a good way to keep his best detective on the job. Crabbe hires Steve (Joe Duttine), an ex-con, as his second in the kitchen and Steve's girlfriend Linda (Alison McKenna) as a waitress.

* "The Truth Will Out"
Fisher asks Crabbe to track down a missing detective constable. In the process, he gets waiter John fired from a swanky hotel -- and hired for Pie in the Sky.

* "An Innocent Man"
One of Crabbe's customers thinks he's being followed. It turns out he's right: it's the law, and they want Crabbe's help to entrap him on a bribery rap.

* "Once a Copper"
With Fisher away, Crabbe's free to devote full attention to Pie in the Sky. Naturally, he and PC Cambridge (Bella Anahoro, The Secret Laughter of Women) spot a villain right away. Meanwhile, the restaurant hosts the "Choose Middleton" committee's Japanese visitors.

Disc Two
* "A Shot in the Dark"
When Crabbe investigates a dead body at an airfield, he finds a lot of snails on the loose -- and Cambridge working undercover as a flight student to uncover a smuggling ring.

* "Undesirable Elements"
When Crabbe and Cambridge do a survey for Fisher, it gives Fisher the chance to investigate a possible murder without raising a fuss, Cambridge a chance at a research credit, and Crabbe a chance to meet a favorite cookery book author. It also gives Steve a chance to play detective on his own to get Crabbe's beloved knives back after a robbery.

* "Passion Fruit Fool"
Fisher's on vacation again. Naturally, Steve gets questioned for some burglaries committed by a pal (Andy Serkis, King Kong), and the dry cleaner suspects his girlfriend has been kidnapped.

Disc Three
* "A Matter of Taste"
Crabbe's investigating a "ram raid" at a wine dealer. Meanwhile, some shady characters looking for misdirected wine kidnap Margaret and her friend. On top of all that, Crabbe has to deal with zoning issues.

* "Who Only Stand and Wait"
Could Fisher have screwed up a murder case and sent an innocent man to jail? That's what it looks like when body parts turn up in a farmer's field. Meanwhile, a big-time chicken king is a fan of Crabbe's, but Crabbe is no fan of his.

* "Endangered Species"
Crabbe discovers that ecoterrorism goes both ways when Fisher tells him to track down a vandal opposed to a new motorway and his friend Henderson is attacked by thugs from the project's security company.

The Evidence

Pie in the Sky introduces the character of Henry Crabbe with a perfect opening sequence. While on a stakeout at an airstrip, Crabbe notices that "there's some wild garlic growing around here somewhere." As a colleague remarks on his remarkable nose, Crabbe's counting the days -- "seven weeks, three days, and eight hours," to be precise -- until his retirement. A car races through, and Crabbe's colleagues give chase. However, Crabbe realizes it's a diversion. He notices a building nearby and decides to investigate. Inside, he finds a man nibbling on prosciutto. It's Hooperman (Michael Kitchen, Foyle's War), the man they've been waiting to apprehend. Hooperman offers Crabbe some New Zealand wine, which he accepts, and a bribe, which he rejects. Hooperman shoots Crabbe in the leg -- and steals the beloved pepper mill Crabbe always carries with him! Within a few minutes, Crabbe's established as a brilliant copper whose real passion is for food. His two gifts intertwine throughout the series, as he solves a case by tasting wine, fends off dangerous-looking characters with a fiery pan, or samples escargot raised by a suspect.

Crabbe's gift for extrapolating from tiny clues such as an apple left at a crime scene may be extraordinary, but the secret ingredient in Pie in the Sky is his moral sense. Although he'd rather be left alone to cut chips or tend to the chickens he lovingly plays tapes of Elgar and Gershwin for, Crabbe can't help doing the right thing, even when ACC Fisher tells him to do the officially preferred thing. After a few episodes, I got the feeling that this is actually why ACC Fisher, a bureaucrat who seems to be channeling Paul Eddington's ineffectual Jim Hacker of Yes, Minister fame and seems to be the guardian of the official line, drags Crabbe into cases; he needs Crabbe's conscience even more than he needs Crabbe's cranium. That could also be why Fisher sends PC Cambridge along with Crabbe on his cases, even if she usually tells Crabbe what Fisher told her to leave out. She's a sharp copper, but there's always the chance that Fisher's conscience will need a conscience as well. It's the way Crabbe tries to piece together the moral perspective, not his solving of mysteries, that makes Pie in the Sky fun to watch.

Another great ingredient in Pie in the Sky is Crabbe's relationship with wife Margaret (Maggie Steed, Lipstick on Your Collar). She's supportive, even though she really, really doesn't want to be in the restaurant business. She's also learning, for the first time, what Henry does as a policeman. One episode finds her watching as Henry goes into a hostage standoff. "It wasn't the first time," Henry tells her, but for her it was. She's also learning that a policeman's work is really about people, not just clues. In a running gag, it turns out that she's the only one Henry can't coax into his foodie passions with a bite of his steak-and-kidney pie. In the interview accompanying the set, Maggie Steed says her rapport with Richard Griffiths drew her to the "bizarre" series, and it shows.

"Bizarre"? Not quite, but I'd say "uneven." Pie in the Sky is one of those character-based detective shows that switches between the silly and the serious very abruptly.

The show, split between studio shooting and locations in and around Hemel Hempstead, England, looks good, with camera work setting up both the light and heavy moments well. I had no problems with the sound.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

What's amazing -- and the show's unbelievable element -- is that everyone in the vicinity of Crabbe is suddenly getting involved in detective work. His sous chef Steve tracks down the burglars who hit Pie in the Sky, waiter John rescues a woman from a fire, and Margaret fights off kidnappers with wine bottles. It seems you need a degree in criminology to work at this little restaurant. Adding a charming supporting cast and a sense of humor makes Pie in the Sky fun to watch even as it fills the plot with coincidences, so it's only a misdemeanor.

While Pie in the Sky tends to be a light souffle, it can get gritty, especially in "Who Only Stand and Wait," as severed body parts keep turning up.

Closing Statement

It's a shame Pie in the Sky didn't turn up widely on Stateside television; the character of Henry Crabbe is one I very much enjoyed meeting. Fans of Lovejoy can rest assured there's more where that came from, with Richard Griffiths' performance making it more than just the same old leftovers.

The Verdict

Not guilty. I have to get out my umbrella; the Weather Channel's calling for falling steak-and-kidney.

Review content copyright © 2009 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 80
Acting: 95
Story: 90
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile
Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English (SDH)

Running Time: 488 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Interview

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0106102/combined