Judge Adam Arseneau was a wee bit stushie in the closie last nicht an goat huckled.
The detective drama Taggart, made by Scottish Television for Britain's ITV, has just entered its 23rd season of production. Eat your heart out, Law & Order.
Facts of the Case
Detective Chief Inspector Jim Taggart (Mark McManus) is the toughest, most sardonic copper in the Maryhill CID, but he is also one of the best detectives they have. His gruff demeanor and loner attitude may not win him any friends in the department, but he always gets results, by hook or by crook. Taggart has no love for his common man, but he loves his city—Glasgow—and will do anything to keep it safe.
Taggart: Killer Set contains the first three Taggart episodes, shown in chronological order:
• "Dead Ringer"
• "Murder in Season"
First broadcast in 1983, Taggart is an unstoppable juggernaut of British network television, a cultural phenomenon that has become the longest-running detective drama in the world. It was so popular and its characters so much a fundamental part of Scottish popular culture that the show actually survived the death of the main character Taggart in 1994 when actor Mark McManus died of pneumonia—a tragedy that would almost certainly have ruined the fortunes of any other television franchise. Here it is 23 years later, and the show is still kicking.
Taggart: Killer Set is a collection of the first three episodes of Taggart, which were actually made-for-television movies, since the regular television series had yet to materialize. These are straight from the vault—the first from 1983 and the others from 1985—and amount to well over six hours of heavily accented Scottish "polis" drama. Speaking of accents, the fact that nobody in North America has even heard of the show probably stems from the incomprehensibly thick and bewildering Scottish brogue used by the majority of the cast. The patter cements the show as a completely regional phenomenon and making the show utterly impossible to export into any other English-speaking market. Ever.
The pilot "Killer" is the roughest of the three episodes, but probably also the cleverest, its plot labyrinthine and full of red herrings with three separate subplots of murder suspects under investigation. Amusingly, it appears the external shots for "Killer" were shot on extremely grainy and poor quality film, but all the interior shots were shot exclusively on BBC-esque 1980s video. Fawlty Towers used to do the same kind of thing. It gives the most odd sense of disconnect whenever a character would walk indoors from the outside, as if a channel had suddenly changed. It is downright disconcerting. Later episodes are more consistent in presentation, though not necessarily better-looking, as they seem to have opted for the grainy film treatment overall.
Taggart's Glasgow is a murky, sullen city full of uncooperative citizens, ugly rivers, and depressing buildings. The gritty cinematography certainly contributes to this image, but the show itself seems to revel in Glasgow as a locale the same way Law & Order is a living, breathing reflection of New York City. Taggart loves his city, but judging from these episodes, it is hard to know why. The city seems as sullen and moody as he is, full of awkward streets, ratty shops, and dim, claustrophobic smoky pubs. You can almost taste the terrible, fatty Scottish food everywhere you go. Every element, from the terrible wallpaper and the cruddy cars to the overwhelming amount of cigarette smoke (the medical examiner smokes a pipe at the crime scene, for Pete's sake), seems as grim as the man Taggart himself.
With a running time of more than two hours each, these episodes border on being painfully long. Watching these episodes, you can walk to the kitchen for a snack, maybe brew a cup of tea if you were in the mood, and return to find that absolutely nothing had transpired. A single hour for each story would have been more than sufficient. The episodes are well-written, but the one-two combination punch of thick accents and excessively slow pacing make these early Taggart episodes a tough show to sell to a modern-day audience. Truth be told, they bored the hell out of me. Still, the episodes are well-written if you manage to stick it out to the end, since they do pull enough twists to keep the storyline interesting.
Straight from some dusty vault, the audio and video presentations are kind of scary. The video segments are clean and free from defect, but hazy and indistinct, with heavily saturated colors. The segments shot on film are grainy, distorted, marred with defects, dirty, and gritty looking, but not in the cool police drama sort of way. The audio is inconsistently balanced, peppered with wind and environmental distortions, and dialogue often floats in and out of earshot. If characters turn their backs to the camera, the dialogue often is muffed and inaudible. The score, a somber orchestral string section, chimes in and out during the dramatic sequences. It looks like pretty standard stuff for Scottish television productions from the early 1980s, but it looks rotten on DVD compared to North American productions.
There's a minimal offering of extras to be had, unfortunately: only cast profiles and random facts. Yawn.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The absence of subtitles from this DVD is just stupid. I don't care how Scottish your family is or how good you are at deciphering Glasgow patter (yes, that is the actual name of the dialect spoken by Glaswegians). There will be large swathes of dialogue that are utterly unintelligible to the average North American, regardless of your verbal prowess. Some of the accents are so thick you could walk into them.
Charming in an "Inspector Rebus" sort of way, Taggart: Killer Set has its murky Scottish charms, but it also has its indecipherable Glaswegian accents, lousy production values, and excessive length to contend with. Still, if there are genuine Taggart fans on this side of the pond to be found, it will no doubt be a treat for them to see these early episodes released onto DVD.
Personally, all it really makes me want to do is read more Ian Rankin novels.
If it's nae Scottish, it's…oh wait.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
• Cast Profiles
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