TV Review: Mysteries, characters make 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' engaging
Settle in front of your TV. Put up your feet, sip a cup of tea. Spend a couple of leisurely hours with Precious Ramotswe, the first female detective in Botswana and proprietor of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency."
And yes, this is HBO.
- When: 8 Sunday on HBO.
- Starring: Jill Scott, Anika Noni Rose, Lucian Msamati.
That's the same cable network that brought you "The Sopranos," "Sex and the City," "The Wire" and "Deadwood," but as you've never seen it: immersed in another country's culture, with a gentle lead character who believes taking time to think is an important part of her job. She likes pastries and a good cup of bush tea, over which she'll discuss her clients' troubles and help to solve the mysteries of their lives, such as the dubious daddy, the dishonest dentist, the cheating husband, the missing husband ... without an obscenity or bare body part in sight.
If you have the patience and good humor to let the back stories and mysteries unfold in the 109 minutes of the first episode, you'll enjoy spending time with Mma Ramotswe and getting to know the landscape of her beloved Botswana, a peaceful nation in southern Africa.
Jill Scott, known as a Grammy-winning R&B singer/songwriter before this endearing, break-out role, has put on a few pounds to appear as the heavy-set, charming woman author Alexander McCall Smith described in his popular novels.
Precious Ramotswe's new world in Gaborone is populated by a group of fast friends, including the owner-mechanic of Speedy Motors, JLB Matekoni (Lucian Msamati), who keeps her little van rolling and pines for her as more than a friend. Her straight-laced secretary is played to the uptight hilt by Anika Noni Rose, a Broadway veteran who portrayed Lorrell in the film "Dreamgirls." Flamboyant stylist BK (Desmond Dube), owner of the Last Chance Hair Salon next door to the agency, notes that his job is similar to his neighbor's: Precious solves problems in people's lives and BK can solve problems of their hair.
Their world sometimes seems small and confined to their corner of the city, until Precious hops into her van and heads out on a mystery -- she rarely uses "case" to describe her work -- to the wild country and small villages like the one where she grew up. The premiere opens with scenes of a beautiful landscape, teeming with wildlife, and Precious as a girl learning powers of observation and a sense of justice from her father. When he dies, he leaves her with 180 cows to sell so that she can start life in her chosen profession.
Both her new friend JLB and her father tell her the same thing when she explains she wants to be a detective: "Then the bad men better watch out."
Mysteries, and clients, are at times in short supply. And not every case goes according to plan, just as Precious' life hasn't always followed the path you'd expect. Her personal baggage includes divorce from a musician who beat her, causing her to lose their child. She had failed to separate the man from his music, she recalls, but we see her nearly seduced by another "bad man" in the series opener. JLB, on the other hand, is a good man who loves her, but she warms to him only as a friend, at least at first.
So much of the debut novel is present in the series debut that, unlike many adaptations, not much will be missed. Perhaps it's because McCall Smith writes in pleasing, spare prose, and the late Anthony Minghella created a no-fuss film to match.
How sad to see the names of the talented Mr. Minghella and Sydney Pollack, together as executive producers. It was the last project for Minghella, who wrote and directed the first episode before he took ill, and among the last for Pollack, who won an Oscar for directing "Out of Africa."
How wonderful that the "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" will be a part of their distinguished legacy.
First Published March 29, 2009 12:00 am