Acorn Media // 2002 // 398 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kristin Munson (Retired) // March 23rd, 2009
Scots on the rocks.
Taggart is Britain's longest running crime drama, outlasting the actor who played the title role and surviving several other cast deaths and defections. You wouldn't know that watching Taggart: Set 1, because Acorn has picked the odd starting point of season 19 to kick off their distribution of the series.
DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton, Braveheart), along with Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff), Stuart Fraser (Colin McCredie, Shallow Grave), and Robbie Ross (John Michie, To Walk With Lions) are a team of detectives in Glasgow's murder unit. I'm not sure why, since there's usually a three-corpse pile-up before they manage to solve any given case.
This 2002 season of the series features the suggestive death of a boxing promoter and a taxi driver and cases revolving around a pharmaceutical research lab and an abortion clinic. The case claims 7 episodes but the last is a two parter so the set actually sports 8. Normally, I'd consider that a bonus, but with Taggart I'm not so sure.
When you watch as much foreign programming as I do, you tend to encounter a country's pop culture in roundabout ways, seeing the parody or hearing the joke before you even know who the actor or what the show being referenced is. Taggart is one of those shows I knew about only by reputation, the drama's heavily accented catchphrase "There's been a murr-durr" popping up frequently as a punch line in British sitcoms and dramas alike. I forgot that some entries to the pop culture lexicon make it in on infamy.
The packaging for Taggart: Set 1 throws the words "gritty" and "edgy" around pretty freely for a show that just takes the usual TV mystery tropes and sticks them in an urban setting. Usually, these shows break a story into two or three installments but Taggart boils it down to a concentrate and churns out a complete mystery in just over 48 minutes. How do the writers do this without tipping off whodunnit too early?
Simple: They cheat.
If you want to win some easy money in the Taggart dead pool, bet on the one character who's never investigated. Seriously, in every single one of the seven stories never is the killer even a real suspect. It preserves the element of surprise (until you notice the pattern) but the explanations make almost no sense. The one time they change it up, the major twist the detectives uncover at the 40-minute mark has been spoiled for us before the opening credits have even played.
It's not just the reveal that's predictable, the other parts of the program are equally formulaic. Every episode of Taggart goes like this: A whole bunch of shady characters are introduced, the most annoying one winds up dead, and the credits roll. The investigation kicks off and immediately reveals two people with obvious motives. Don't get too excited; neither of them did it. To prove this, someone else gets killed in a first person POV attack where the victims yell "It's you!" instead of "Larry you haggis-eating bastard!" because there's still 27 minutes left and the solution is the only thing keeping people from flipping over to more intelligent fare like a rerun of Are You Being Served?. Some stupid, last act clue reveals that it's none of the suspects who've done it, but some background character who's had maybe five lines and whose motive is explained as they're being hauled away like a Scooby Doo villain. Cue pithy bon mot, roll credits and your own eyes.
Taggart could have survived the cookie-cutter plots -- lots of great cop shows are more about the interpersonal side of law enforcement than intricate cases -- but the current detective team is blander than porridge. There's the gruff boss, the reliable partner, the hothead, and the tech-savvy newbie and none of the main characters set a foot outside those narrow descriptions. Some of this is probably the result of coming to the show smack in the middle the series. Season 19 is a bizarre place to kick off, especially when the current cast and their storylines already somewhat established. There's a vague hint in the first episode that one of the constables is carrying a torch for a colleague and that a broken marriage might open up some romantic possibilities, but it's never mentioned again. I found out through some random Googling that one of the detectives outed themselves in an earlier season, something that's also never alluded to. It's enough to make me wistful for the neck-snapping personality changes and idiotic antics of The Vice
The softer focus and atmospheric lighting of the series leads to a lot of speckling and fuzziness across the picture and "Bad Blood" sports a jagged line across the top widescreen bar for most of the episode. The 2.0 stereo, like the series, is serviceable but lackluster. The bonus features promise info about filming locations but deliver a collection of dull station filler about Scotland's landmarks that aren't connected to the series at all. The only feature to actually cover a place appearing in this season is a four-part history of Glasgow Central Station that's hosted by a human valium tablet.
Duff's 19 year run as Jackie is her only IMDb credit, making her one of the only connections to the original cast, but Taggart's revolving door finally stops spinning in this set of episodes. The same cast will be around for the next six seasons, assuming Acorn is going to be releasing episodes chronologically from here on.
Judging by this set, Taggart lacks the stories and the personal conflicts that would give it the replay stamina of Law & Order or Prime Suspect and the biggest compliment I can muster is that the current cast is reliable. That's like the television equivalent of an attendance award.
Guilty of murr-durr-ing 400 minutes of my life.
Review content copyright © 2009 Kristin Munson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 398 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated