MPI // 1994 // 400 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees (Retired) // July 13th, 2004
Tanner: "I can't make out whether you care or not, guv."
Frost: "Can't you? Good!"
The well-crafted mystery series A Touch of Frost, based on the novels by R.D. Wingfield, is greatly successful in Britain but less known in the States. Featuring the outspoken curmudgeon Detective Inspector "Jack" Frost, skillfully portrayed by David Jason, these mysteries show us a gritty side of police work. For Frost, a tough job is complicated by pompous Superintendent Mullett (Bruce Alexander), who often seems to be working at cross purposes with Frost in his desire to generate favorable publicity. Working with a constantly revolving series of partners, Frost applies his unique combination of gut instinct, experience, determination, and craftiness to a series of often grim cases.
Season Two consists of four episodes, each about 100 minutes, presented here on three discs.
* "A Minority of One"
A series of burglaries at a housing project creates racial tension, and as a publicity gesture Mullett assigns Frost a black partner, DC Tanner (Lennie James), who is all too aware of his token status. The two manage to form a stable working relationship despite Frost's political incorrectness, but when one of Frost's informants is murdered, Frost's personal involvement with the case threatens to cloud his judgment.
* "Widows and Orphans"
Two elderly women are severely beaten, in one case fatally, and Frost and his new female partner, Maureen Lawson (Sally Dexter), must determine if there is a connection between these assaults and a series of burglaries. In the novel situation of working with a female detective, Frost unexpectedly finds himself opening up about his chance encounter with Shirley Fisher (Lindy Whiteford), who nursed his wife during her last illness. As the investigation uncovers a connection between the new assaults and a series of unsolved crimes, Frost takes the daunting step of asking Shirley to dinner.
* "Nothing to Hide"
The death of a troubled young drug addict seems at first to be merely an unfortunate inevitability, but the autopsy provides proof of foul play. Frost is teamed with a new detective constable, Costello, a former inspector who has been demoted for punching a superior and who brings a gigantic chip on his shoulder to his new position. The evidence of a cantankerous homeless man may prove valuable in identifying the culprit; meanwhile, Frost embarks on a more personal investigation when he tries to resume contact with Eileen Grant (Marion Bailey), with whom he had an affair before his wife's illness and death.
* "Stranger in the House"
An ongoing investigation into a series of rapes is complicated by two incidents that may or may not be related: a teenaged girl vanishes from her house, and a young woman is attacked in her own car. Frost and police constable Hazel Wallace team up to try to apprehend the rapist before the case is handed over to higher authorities, but Frost's plan to use Hazel as bait may place her in more danger than he anticipated. Frost also attempts to make amends to Shirley Fisher for their disastrous date, and she agrees to accompany him to a ceremony honoring recipients of the George Cross -- a medal Frost doesn't fully believe he deserved.
This DVD set was my introduction to the Frost mysteries, and even without any familiarity with the character or his back story I was drawn in fairly quickly. Even though the first episode of this season, "A Minority of One," is probably the weakest, it established Frost as a character I enjoyed spending time with, and the remaining episodes strengthened my appreciation of him and of the series itself. In a way Frost is quite contradictory: Untidy, disorganized, often cranky, he barely bothers to disguise his contempt for his prissy superior Mullett (whom he has nicknamed "Horn-Rimmed Harry"), yet he cares deeply about the people he encounters in his investigations, and his blundering personal life shows his vulnerable side. His sense of humor sometimes seems caustic or flippant, but when a crime arouses his sense of outrage, he dedicates himself to it without hesitation. Frost's romantic difficulties make him someone we can relate to, and in his clashes with Mullett we cheer him on as he champions common sense over bureaucracy. The show's writers capitalize on his unique personality by placing him with different partners in each episode, so the changing, often contradictory personality dynamics keep the series fresh from episode to episode.
Although the character of Frost is what makes this series really stand out, the other elements are also very strong: These mysteries are smart, well-plotted police procedurals peopled with convincing characters, lots of unexpected plot twists, and insightful treatment of real-world issues like racism, society's treatment of the elderly, and the impact of drug use on an addict's family. The series has a somewhat stark feel, and it doesn't flinch from showing us poverty, dysfunctional relationships by the bucketful, and the painful aftermath of violence and death -- not to mention everyday realities like tension between coworkers. Indeed, without some humor to provide a counterpoint, the plots would be terribly depressing. Fortunately, in addition to Frost's wonderfully irreverent commentary on the action, we also get some lighter moments courtesy of other characters and sometimes entire subplots: For example, "Nothing to Hide" gives us the comic character of Walter, the drunken homeless man who always sounds like an irascible sea captain shouting through a gale-force storm, and adds a fun subplot in which all the officers torment Mullett by hinting that he behaved inappropriately at a retirement party that he is too hung over to remember.
Audio and video are respectable for a decade-old British television release. Although video seems a bit hazy and dingy, I suspect that this may have been a deliberate choice, since the series refuses to glamorize police work and makes a point of showing how soulless and grungy are Frost's surroundings. There is actually very little grain, and speckling and dirt are at an acceptable level. Audio is clear, and the bluesy saxophone on the musical score sounds excellent. It's not what I'd call a sparkling transfer, but I think sparkle would be contradictory to the mood the series creates.
It's a pity that this long-running, highly successful series appears on a barebones edition. We don't even get a chapter listing for these episodes, which seems like a minimal courtesy. Moreover, the English subtitles, which can come in handy when the varied British accents or slang expressions become a bit confusing to the American viewer, are abysmal. The author of the subtitles is often wrong (calling Y-fronts "white-fronts," for example) and in some places simply gives up, indicating "[unintelligible]." I admit that after the first episode I only referred to the subtitles once, so perhaps this lameness doesn't persist; frankly, I was too exasperated to investigate further.
The actual, physical packaging of the set is very nice: A single double-wide keep case containing double-sided hinged trays, it's both more durable and more convenient than those irritating fold-out cardboard affairs and less bulky than a set of individual keep cases. But again, where are our goodies? A director commentary or even actor bios would have been a step in the right direction.
The list price for A Touch of Frost: Season Two is staggeringly high for a barebones set, so I advise first-time viewers to rent before deciding whether to make the substantial financial investment this set represents. It's a pity that MPI didn't sweeten the deal with some nice extras if they were going to charge close to $50 for this set. Nevertheless, I urge fans of police procedurals to look around for a markdown price, since this is a solid mystery series that many will enjoy adding to their collection.
Detective Inspector Frost is found not guilty. His ongoing efforts to fight crime will no doubt bring him to our courtroom again, and we look forward to consulting with him in the future. However, MPI is issued a stern warning from the bench to lower their prices or add some extra content to future releases in this series.
Review content copyright © 2004 Amanda DeWees; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 400 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated