Case Number 07449: Small Claims Court


MPI // 1998 // 400 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees (Retired) // August 24th, 2005

The Charge

Mullett: It's one obsession after another with you, isn't it?
Frost: Well, try to think of it as dogged persistence, sir.

The Case

After the intense drama of the previous season, Season Six of popular British mystery series A Touch of Frost is a relief -- or a letdown, depending on how you look at it. As always, the cast is excellent, from David Jason as Inspector Frost right down to the guest actors, and the plotting and character development of the stories continue to be high quality on the whole. Nonetheless, this season is lighter-weight than the previous one, and although that makes it less emotionally draining, it also means that sometimes it seems to be coasting.

As with most previous seasons, this one comprises four episodes, each approximately 100 minutes.

* "Appendix Man"
After the traumatic events that closed Season Five, Frost decides to resign from the force, but Superintendent Mullett -- who is jockeying for promotion and knows Frost is popular with the higher-ups -- refuses to accept his resignation, calling his absence "compassionate leave." In any case, Frost is soon back on the job when the bizarre death of an art collector reveals a link to one of his past cases: Some fingerprints in the dead man's apartment are those of an unidentified corpse found drowned a year before. At the same time that he tries to sort out this mystery, he finds that a valuable painting has gone missing from the dead man's apartment, which leads him to suspect a connection to another past case: a robbery that ended fatally.

This episode shows off A Touch of Frost's virtuosic plotting skills, with lots of surprising revelations and tangled evidence. The complicated fingerprint mystery alone is absorbing and leads to an unexpected denouement. The return of Hazel Wallace (Caroline Harker), a former uniformed officer who has been promoted to detective sergeant, is welcome; it's amusing to note that she is experienced enough with Frost's quirks to gracefully take a back seat on her own investigation when he seizes control. This is the best episode of Season Six; sadly, it's all downhill from here.
Grade: B+

* "One Man's Meat"
A health officer goes missing after a reconnaissance mission to a meat-packing plant, and when a dismembered arm turns up, Frost turns his sights to hanky-panky at the plant. At the same time, he is looking into the death of a young homeless girl, but the investigation is complicated by her peers' distrust of the police. Frost's own life becomes briefly more stable when his house, which burned down some time ago, is finally rebuilt by the insurance company. However, he finds he needs a lodger to help pay the bills, and takes in a young policeman -- not expecting to get saddled with his renter's dog, a canine officer in training.

Of the two main stories that comprise this episode, the one concerning the vanished health inspector is the more compelling, in part due to the strong performances; the inspector's wife in particular is a strong character, and we sympathize with her as she tries to convince the dismissive police officers that her husband's disappearance is worthy of investigation. The investigation of the homeless girl's death leads us down the expected false pathways, but the ending hardly seems worth the journey. On the plus side, watching Frost grow to appreciate his unwanted canine partner (who shares his dislike of Mullett) is enjoyable.
Grade: B

* "Private Lives"
A hit-and-run accident that leaves a prosperous wife and mother in critical condition leads to astonishing disclosures about the double life she was leading. In the close-knit village where her family lives, suspicion falls on a troubled young war veteran, and unless Frost intervenes, the townspeople may end up taking the law into their own hands. Frost is partnered in this episode with the ironically named Detective Sergeant "Razor" Sharpe (Philip Jackson), a well-meaning but clumsy officer.

We all know by now that the comfortable facade of suburban life actually hides sordid personal secrets, so this episode is treading already well-trodden ground. Even the side plot about the resentful neighbors fomenting a lynching is old hat, and not particularly convincing; these gents are more believable watering their window boxes than threatening anyone with brute force. There's some worthwhile social commentary in the depiction of the war veteran who finds himself unable to re-engage with life outside the military, but this too is a motif we've seen before. Surprisingly, the execution doesn't do much to redeem all this well-worn material.
Grade: C+

* "Keys to the Car"
Shake-ups among the staff start off this episode. Mullett is on leave and has been replaced by a senior officer, the soft-spoken but steely Assistant Chief Constable Anne Cremond (Melanie Thaw). Frost's usual right-hand man, George, is suspended when he takes the blame for a procedural breach of Frost's. Mullett requests that Frost investigate the theft of a car belonging to one of his golf buddies; it's the kind of crime usually not granted a full detective investigation, but it soon proves to be part of a string of car thefts committed by a well-heeled con artist with a yen for golf and female companionship. Frost is also frustrated by his inability to prosecute a known drug dealer, but when the dealer is released from custody only to show up dead -- in the trunk of the stolen car -- Frost leaps into the investigation with particular interest.

It's become a bit old by now to see Frost butting heads with a strong-willed woman in authority; his clashes with Anne Cremond are thus rather predictable. I also found myself empathizing with this character when her taste for exotic underclothes makes her the butt -- oops, I mean "subject" -- of jokes among her inferiors. She's strict but not as ruthless as some of the professional women Frost has encountered, and I ended up feeling indignant that Frost and the other male officers respected her so little...which, I'm sure, was not at all the intended reaction. However, Frost does show appreciation for the mysterious Dutch woman (Manouk van der Meulen) who provides unexpected assistance with the investigation and brings welcome glamour into the usually dreary setting. The episode ends in a terrific, tense stand-off that makes it worth enduring the less than gripping buildup.
Grade: B-

Audiovisual quality for this series seems to get a bit better with each successive release, which may reflect the decreasing age of the materials. In any event, the picture here is very sharp and clear, as is audio, a robust 2.0 stereo mix that could almost pass for surround. Although the volume of dialogue sometimes drops beneath the comprehensible level, this is apparently due to the actors' lack of projection and not any fluctuation in the soundtrack itself. As is so often the case with this series, there are no extras for this set.

Fans of Frost will probably enjoy this season, even though it isn't as emotionally powerful as some previous ones. After all, even so-so A Touch of Frost is still better than most comparable American series. However, those new to the series should probably start with one of the earlier seasons to get a better sense of just how fine this show can be.

The court will let this season off lightly; even though it's not Inspector Frost's best work, he's definitely someone we want to keep on the force, and we're confident that he will regain his former excellence.

Review content copyright © 2005 Amanda DeWees; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile
Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English

Running Time: 400 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

* IMDb

* page for Season Six

* Review of Season Two

* Review of Season Three

* Review of Season Four

* Review of Season Five