MPI // 2007 // 280 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // July 29th, 2009
"You can't win them all. Not every case."
"I can try."
That "I can try" is the sort of oath that warms the hearts of detective show viewers, but it comes with A Touch of Frost in Britain. David Jason (Hogfather) plays Inspector Jack Frost, the perpetually miserable but determined detective who gets his own pocket picked while solving murder cases and doesn't seem to get along with anybody, but can always be counted on to risk censure by his peers -- and his life -- in his attempts to win them all. This is A Touch of Frost: Series 14, and the DVD cover brags about the show's "18 million viewers" (in a country with less than a quarter the population of the United States); those two details could be a recommendation in and of themselves.
A Touch of Frost: Series 14 features three movies on two discs. (Note: IMDb lists "Mind Games," on Disc Two, as the first episode in this batch):
* "Dead End"
DS Annie Marsh (Cherie Lunghi, Covington Cross) sees a bus driver hassled and threatened by a group of teens shortly before he is kidnapped. However, the driver was behind the wheel a few years back when a lorry killed four pedestrians, lengthening the list of suspects and motives. Add a diabetic conductress who was on the bus at the same time, a dead clown in an unrelated case, an old squabble with Marsh, and a pickpocket hitting close to home to Frost's headaches.
* "In the Public Interest"
Newspaper magnate James Callum (Adrian Lukis, Pride and Prejudice) loves a good scandal, except when his latest girlfriend is found dead after a houseboat fire just as he's getting ready to build his new headquarters in Denton. Meanwhile, three men are found dead in a "mass grave" -- and in a circle. Could it be satanism?
* "Mind Games"
A man just paroled after serving twenty years for murder faces a new investigation when a second body is found. Meanwhile, two motivational speakers, thinking they're in for an evening of skinny dipping with their dates, see the women drive off in their cars -- with their clothes. When their office is burgled and one of the men is found dead, the prank isn't so funny.
Whodunnit -- and who gets murdered? Chances are you'll be trying to figure this out even before the crimes take place. A Touch of Frost puts lots of possibilities -- and red herrings -- before viewers from the start. If a woman's walking home at night or a knife is shown, cue the ominous music. You'll find lots of characters arguing before the first crime as well. With Frost juggling two cases in each episode, those opening setup scenes give you a lot to sort out, but Season 14's double cases pay off thematically. It may be unrealistic for a clue in one case to yield the answer in another case as well, but it makes for good TV drama.
David Jason may be gloomy as Inspector Jack Frost, but he's actually what keeps the series upbeat as he applies his personal code to cases. Frost may be itching to convict a suspect, but he's not afraid to consider evidence that challenges his assumptions, and he tortures himself over mistakes. Jason's mastery of sarcasm does wonders with throwaway lines ("Satanic. Masonic. It's all mumbo-jumbo to me," for exampl. He can also do a lot with little details, like the way Frost keeps chewing on his sandwich even as he looks over three bodies in a pit or "accidentally" leaves his mobile phone behind on his desk. Frost's character is constantly being told that "times change," and seems to be getting the message, even as he manages to keep pace with his constantly changing group of assistants. Bruce Alexander (Tomorrow Never Dies), who's usually the butt of jokes as Superintendent Mullett, gets a good scene in at the end of "Mind Games," as the outcome of the case tears at Frost. Season 14 seems more focused on Frost's cases and less on his personal life than two previous volumes I reviewed; with cases that shed light on Frost's failures, past and present, the comic relief aspects of the character are necessarily toned down.
The visuals of the midsized industrial town that Jack Frost protects are often drab, but they're well-shot. They're matched with a jazz score that hits all the right somber notes to create a downbeat atmosphere that goes well with the hero's frosty nature.
While it's an excellently crafted drama, the gloomy tone may be what killed Frost off early here in the States. Even in England, the ratings for Frost are down from that lofty 18 million touted on the DVD cover -- although the 9 million figure I saw in a Daily Mail article was enough to land star David Jason a two-year contract renewal. Heck, 9 million might be a hit here nowadays.
A Touch of Frost is a cut above the average police procedural, mainly because of David Jason's performance in the title role. If you're already familiar with A Touch of Frost, you'll want to catch up on his latest cases. If not, I'd Netflix or try to find an earlier set on closeout to do some sampling.
The forecast: Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 280 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Sir David Janson's new contract