Thursday December 20, 2012

KEENE, N.H.

Vera 2 -- The police series "Vera, Set 2" is little different from any other British police series. The plots are standard, with characters that include the DCI, the young assistant, the forensic pathologist, the lesser lights around the office, the villains around the town, and the victims (without which there would be no plot).

Now I said "little different" with good reason. As in so many shows of this genre, the lead makes it all worthwhile watching -- or not. We have David Suchet as Poirot, Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, John Nettles as Barnaby as all too rare examples.

The case in point in "Vera" is Brenda Blethyn, a short, plain-looking, somewhat mature actress who plays (or rather underplays) the title role of DCI Vera Stanhope. She is serious but not above a wisecrack or two and has trouble keeping up with the running that policing often involves. (She does mention angina at one point.)

Through the four episodes in Set 1 and the first three in Set 2, I was glad to see that the plots were not padded with all sorts of personal troubles lumbering the lead sleuth. It was only in the last episode of Set 2 that a good deal of the plot was devoted to incidents in the past coming back to haunt her -- and there was (this is my chief objection) no real tie-in with the crime at hand.

She is ably assisted by Sgt. Joe Ashworth (David Leon) and forever irritated by the macabre sense of humor of pathologist Billy Cartwright (Paul Ritter). Indeed, the humor of the latter is like that on "MASH," one foot in reality, the other in the resultant autopsy sights and smells.

The Northumberland landscapes add much to the tone of the stories. After all, the grisly murders with which Vera deals seem right at home in the northern darkness in which she and others operate. Stately home murders are not for her.

The titles of the episodes in Set 2 are "The Ghost Position," "Silent Voices," "Sandancers" and "A Certain Samaritan." The plots are varied enough and seem a bit similar from episode to episode; but such is the nature of crime shows.

Those who have read the novels of Ann Cleeves can vouch for how faithful these adaptations are to the original. As for me, I don’t particularly care, because I enjoyed watching Set 2 very much.

Dean Martin -- Today’s mail brought with it a modestly packaged DVD titled "The Dean Martin Christmas Show" (was there only one?) on the Time Life label. This was taken from a Dec. 19, 1968 telecast, minus the commercials, and presented with a 48-minute running time. The first part is 98 percent innocent merriment. The lost 2 percent is due to the oblique references to Martin’s alcohol consumption.

One of the skits features Bob Newhart as a very embarrassed customer trying to return an awful wig -- and keeping Martin in a fit of a laughter throughout. Another has Dom Deluise as a patrolman ticketing Santa Claus for parking in a tow-away zone and having a suspicious load of items. Later, Deluise plays a devoted nerd trying to do his work during an office Christmas party, with predictable results. Bob Hope is wasted in a brief appearance in which his one joke is not a very good one.

Many big-name guests are used to participate in the somewhat over sentimentalized salute to first the children of those connected with the show and then needy children all over the country.

The musical numbers are handled deftly by Martin and his Golddiggers, the latter doing some Christmassy routines in sexy costumes. One may judge for one’s self.

While being no masterpiece in the history of telecasting, the show does nicely recall what television was in its teen years when NBC had to assure viewers that "the following show is in living color."

Note: With Seasonal Shopping at its height, perhaps the reader might consider some of the CDs and DVDs I have highlighted in my column as good gifts to those known to be interested in music, crime drama, and so on. Just a thought.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.