Judge P.S. Colbert has never been to Scotland, but he kinda likes the music.
Mary: You're very pale, aren't you?
First off, British-produced television series William & Mary: The Complete Collection deals with neither the lives of King William III of Orange and his wife, Queen Mary II, nor the Williamsburg, Virginia college they founded in their own names—actually, the second-oldest institute of higher education in America.
Widower William Shawcross (Martin Clunes, Doc Martin) has a pair of teenage daughters, sings in a church choir, plays bass guitar in a blues-rock bar band, and serves as the very sympathetic and extremely attentive director of Shawcross and Sons Funeral Home, a well-respected London institution, started by his late father.
Single mother Mary Gilcrest (Julie Graham, Bonekickers) has a pair of teenage sons, comes to London via Scotland, and serves as a midwife, on staff at All Saviours Hospital.
She helps bring people into the world, he helps see them out. Circle of life, see? Add this to the business of their first names (I mean, really—was it a coin toss that prevented them from being called Simon and Garfunkel?) and things are starting to get a bit uncomfortably cute. And they are cute: He with his baby face, Gingerbread cookie physique and self-deprecating humor; her with the wee Scuttish ak-sent, her Tartan temper, and that maddeningly sexy gap between her bottom front teeth…
But wait, it gets worse: they're matched up by one of those pricey, modern dating services—Ugh!
Despite all these icky romcom contrivances, the last thing I expected William & Mary to do was distinguish itself, warts and all, as a surprisingly unique, amusing and intelligent antidote to several Hugh Grant vehicles. Ironically, the show isn't technically a comedy at all—in fact, each episode troops out a steady procession of heartwarming and/or heartbreaking developments—yet creator Mick Ford (Scum), who penned every installment, deftly keeps things from ever turning moribund (no small thing, considering one of the leads is an undertaker!) or collapsing under its own weight.
The complete collection totals eighteen episodes, the sum total of three seasons (or "series," as they're called over the pond), and the time is well spent. Clunes and Graham are marvelous, oozing sexual chemistry and mischief but never allowing their characters to seem anything less than real. What's more, they're surrounded by a stellar supporting cast gifted with fully-fleshed roles of their own to play. You'll notice that I haven't included any synopses, and that's because to do so would be merely to tell you what happens next. Forget spoiler alerts: William & Mary isn't an episodic collection of adventures, but a bird's eye view of lives in progression. Sure, there are occasional Oh, come on! moments, and you'll see some plot points coming a mile off, but after all, this is television, not a new and improved alternative to the wheel.
Correction: this is top-flight television entertainment for grown-ups. Unfortunately, "top flight" doesn't quite describe the picture quality. The images are perfectly watchable, but frankly, for a television series aged just ten years, I was surprised at how soft and fuzzy things got at times. Maybe we're spoiled by American television standards, where high definition has been the norm during the 21st century. The Dolby Digital stereo sound fares better on the whole, but if accents throw you, English subtitles are an option. The set's single extra is a forty-minute interview with stars Martin Clunes and Julie Graham, interspersed with clips from the series. It's pleasant enough, if unremarkable, and it won't spoil your dinner.
Granted, the scripts are manipulative, but the writing is fantastic and I found myself wanting to go in the direction the show was leading me. Now, if pyrotechnic action, true crime, or sex-soaked intrigue is more your bag, you'll want to steer clear, but if you're in the mood to meet some nice, contemporary Brit folk for a cuppa, and tag along while they get on with their lives, William & Mary: The Complete Collection should suit you fine.
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Studio: Acorn Media
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