PBS tonight presents that rare "Mystery!" in search of a mystery.
The underachiever is "Oliver's Travels," a BBC four-parter that succeeds as a picturesque travelogue--having its pair of smitten, smooching sleuths travel the historic castle circuit from Wales to Scotland's Orkney Islands--but not as much else.
No one is menacing, no one believably menaced.
The catalyst here is fickle academe. Brilliant, eccentric Oliver (Alan Bates) loses his job teaching comparative religion at a suburban college that has designated him a "redundancy." His parting gift from the school is a pair of matching suitcases that he promptly packs, then he cheerily hits the road in search of someone named Aristotle, who creates the newspaper crosswords that Oliver faithfully works.
He finds a burnt-out cottage, presumably belonging to the absent Aristotle, and while filing a missing person report meets local policewoman Diane Priest (Sinead Cusack) and insinuates himself into a murder case. Soon Oliver and Diane are motoring cross-country together and falling in love while being tailed by an ambiguous man in a dark suit who is meant to be ominous but isn't.
Alan Plater's script meanders murkily across 4 1/2 hours--far too much time to squander on this trifle--and whatever it is that Oliver and Diane are searching for matters less in this story than their warming romance and glib banter.
Oliver, in particular, is relentlessly chatty, suffering from a bad case of the brainy cutes that soon wears thin. Both characters are so incessantly blithe and seemingly incapable of deep feeling that the supposed intensity of their relationship is never credible.
Thus, "Oliver's Travels" comes up short as a romantic comedy too. It surely doesn't succeed as a mystery.
* "Oliver's Travels" premieres on "Mystery!" at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.