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.


  1. If I had HBO I'd definitely give this show a try.

  2. When I first watched this show, I was mildly
    curious. After 3 episodes, the entire family was
    hooked! We are a middle class white family and I knew this show was addictive, when my 36 year
    old son and his girlfriend came over an asked'"Can we watch the Lady's #1 Detecive Agency?" After we watched episode 4, we were looking for more on HBO on demand, watched the 3 minute trailer and the "making" of Lady's...we
    are hooked. It came as a shock to us that these gals, that have the Botswanna dialect so down pat, are American actresses. We love the music and I have fallen in love with the secretary/partner, Grace, character. Now we wait for the next episode and it leaves us wanting more. I was especially interested to learn that many of the cases portrayed are based
    on real life news events or cases in Botswanna.
    Call your freinds, call your family...tell them to watch....we want to see more and can't get
    enough! It is just the right touch of mystery
    and humor presented in a very real way, as if
    these characters were people you could know and

  3. African Americans? I thought we were watching Botswanans?

  4. Rose played one of the "Dreams" (the one who wasn't Beyonce or Jennifer Hudson - ha!) in the movie "Dreamgirls". Jill Scott, until now, was best known for her fabulous singing. She has sold MILLIONS of records. It amuses me that so many had not heard of Jill Scott before this series!

  5. My husband and I loved watching the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency episodes. It became our regular viewing every Sunday night. We found all of the characterizations to be charming. We were sorry when it was over. We really hope HBO renews it for a second and longer season soon!

  6. I love this show. I am west african and I have been to south africa and this series is soooo dead on with the villages of africa. I love the secretary she is sooo eager to please and naiive as well. the cast is a beautiful. collaboration. Jill scott is brilliant as well.. so is her admirer and the hairdresser.