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TELEVISION REVIEW

PBS' `Jericho' rousts up shades of Bogart

April 29, 2006|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

At the Anglophilic intersection of public broadcasting and detective fiction lies "Mystery!," one of television's most reliable brands, a cornerstone of PBS fund drives for a quarter-century and the American home to a panoply of British sleuths professional, amateur and de facto -- Miss Marple, Horace Rumpole, Adam Dalgliesh, Endeavour Morse, Peter Wimsey, Jane Tennison and on and (relatively speaking) on. And in all their cases it is not the crime that matters so much as the character of the crime-busters, and their milieu, and each program's style -- not in the narrow sense of production values or a fancy look, but in the building of a look and atmosphere appropriate to the material.

Its latest imported crime-solver, whose adventures begin Sunday night and play out across the following three weeks, is the eponymous Mike Jericho of "Jericho" (exclamation mark understood), played by Robert Lindsay, who is good company. In his iconic trench coat and loosely knotted tie, he is oddly enough the picture not of the British police inspector but of the classic American private eye, and particularly of Humphrey Bogart, whose masculine-feminine toughness Lindsay recalls in his person and performance.

Indeed, the show's very title seems an homage to American detective shows of the 1970s ("Columbo," "McCloud," "Kojak," "Mannix," etc.), notwithstanding its late 1950s setting -- but that was a time when English pop culture was particularly American, animated by rock 'n' roll and jazz and bottle-blond Cinemascope sex kittens. With its John Barry-esque stabbing jazz theme and frequent forays into the lurid color palette of a pulp magazine cover, it is a kind of cross between "L.A. Confidential" and "Absolute Beginners."

There is plenty of dark fun had with the time's changing mores and the country's colorful class system. You get contemporary issues of race and sex (homosexuality, fear and repression of) and even the Cold War makes an appearance.

Like many such heroes, Jericho is both in this world and apart from it, above the more usual prejudices of his time. He's a loner -- though a kind of socially needy loner -- heedless of authority, hungry for justice. He hangs around in jazz clubs, smoking and drinking. He's an insomniac, haunted by his cases and by his past, and so he prods his loyal sidekick Det. Sgt. Clive Harvey (David Troughton) and new boy D.C. John Caldicott (Ciaran McMenamin) into late-night meals or invites himself home to Harvey's.

He's a lonely soul ("the only girl he ever loved married somebody else when he was away in the war," it is explained) but making a move toward the nice French prostitute downstairs (Aurelie Bargeme). And there is some business regarding the death of his policeman father, business made clearer across the two two-part episodes that PBS has imported. (Two more have aired in Britain.)

It's a mix of many things you've seen before, if you watch these sorts of things at all, and some things you haven't. There are instances when things seem to happen for no reason but to move the plot in a certain direction; it's sometimes hard to follow and occasionally strains credulity. But overall it's an enjoyable time, with enough false leads, red herrings and likely suspects to keep one thinking and theorizing.

*

`Mystery! Jericho'

Where: KCET

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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