Monday, April 06, 2009
TV REVIEW: HBO's "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency"
I wasn't planning on liking this series. Sometimes the roles African Americans are cast in can be a bit cartoonish. But it's damn near impossible not to like the main character of this unorthodox detective series adapted from Alexander McCall Smith's novel. R&B singer Jill Scott (Why Did I Get Married?) plays Precious, the only female detective in Botswana (and possibly Africa). Ever since she was a kid, learning the ways of her people, she's wanted to solve crimes. Once her father passed away and left her his lucrative land and herd, she sold everything, moved to the "city," and opened her own agency.
So no, it's not anything like "CSI" or even "Monk." It's more like a toned-down "Burn Notice," if Michael was a sweet-talking black woman, who found a new lease on life after her ex-husband's abuse caused her to miscarry. She's generous, selfless, and creative with her limited resources. Heck, she's so hellbent on helping others that she doesn't even charge half of her clients. But despite how harmless, innocent and defenseless she may look, she's actually ballsy enough to stand up to one of the most dangerous men in Botswana and seduce a married man to prove he's an adulterer.
Her partner slash secretary, Grace (Anika Noni Rose from Dreamgirls), serves as most of the comic relief. She's abrasive, stiff, proud, insecure, and secretive. She goes home to an unidentified, couch-ridden man, who cares enough to ask her how her day was, but quarrels with her for rejecting payment until the agency actually makes money. There's surely a backstory there that'll be blown wide open later.
The other cast of characters are an encouraging, gay hairdresser; a lovable mechanic, who wants to marry her; a crooked, ambulance-chasing lawyer; and an enterprising child, who's always eager to make an honest buck.
The two-hour premiere seemed fast-paced. But the second episode was slower, which is a good thing, since sometimes it's hard to keep track of all the cases she's working on simultaneously. All in all, though, it's really amusing and interesting to see what types of cases would arise in Botswana as opposed to Miami. While there are the classic clients who seek a P.I. to tail their cheating husbands, there are also missing children taken by voodoo priests who sell their fingers; twin dentists, who botch surgeries because they share one medical license; do-gooders who pretend to lose fingers on the job to use the workman's comp to fund daycares and playgrounds; and men suspected of being kidnapped by cults, but who were actually snatched up by a gator during a routine river baptism. You won't find many of these on "Law & Order," but you will be just as intrigued.
Scott does an impeccable job for her first lead role, and Rose has a true knack for comedy. But the question, as always, is whether or not this is a one-season wonder or if it has "Dexter"/"Sopranos"-type staying power. The fact is the title doesn't exactly attract the male masses, and the posters--not to mention the, dare I say it, all-black cast--won't exactly attract a majority of middle America. I like it. I wanted to see more after watching three hours straight. But I doubt it'll be able to compete with "Desperate Housewives," where the "cases" are scandalous, drawn-out mysteries for the viewers to solve.