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“Forgotten” and “Van der Valk”: Masterpiece Mystery returns

Masterpiece Mystery, the publisher of British police procedures, returns this month with the Sunday back-to-back seasons of “Unforgotten” (London detectives work on an unsolved case) and “Van der Valk” (detectives solve murders in Amsterdam).

More than six chapters “Unforgettable” focuses on a single case. The series originally starred Nicola Walker and she later switched to a different police procedure (“Annika” It will return to PBS in October). Sinéad Keenan takes on the role of grumpy Detective Chief Inspector Jessica James this season. He has problems at home (isn’t he always?) but here he is, mysterious and no-nonsense in a sleek black sweater vest and flashy blouses. His subordinates call her lady (“mother” in the English pronunciation), but he tells them that “chief” will suffice, she. The show could have used more of this dry humor.

Police were called to a house that was being renovated. A body dressed in a 1940s robe was found in one of the chimneys. DCI James thinks it doesn’t make much sense to spend resources on a murder that might have happened 80 years ago, and it horrifies his team – including the silently suffering second-in-command, Detective Inspector Sunil “Sunny” Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar) – who are bewildered by the event. they learn that their new boss considers an old murder less important than a new one.

But this dress is a total macguffin. It turns out it was bought in an old shop, and evidence suggests the murder was actually much more recent. This changes everything. Still, James needs some nudge when it comes to business collaboration. “We need to come up with a thousand stupid theories, laugh at them and come up with better ones,” an exasperated Khan tells him.

I’ve always preferred the way British TV shows portray police interviews. They have a discipline. A controlled rhythm. They are made carefully and are almost clinical. Questions are delivered calmly and can start with: “What would you say if I told you…?” The answer will inevitably be “No comment”. In terms of tone, it’s very different from the smug-grudging-violent interrogations that proliferate on American shows, where the person sitting across the table is actually screwed.

The previous seasons of “Unforgotten”, which I watched in the weekly format of Masterpiece, had a hard time holding my attention. The slow-paced, in-depth approach of the series (containing unrelated storylines that eventually all come together) doesn’t work when it’s split into episodes that unfold over a month’s time. This time, I had the advantage of watching all six episodes in a row, and HE works for the benefit of the show.

If I had to guess, Masterpiece Mystery has faced a more competitive market in recent years, in terms of what programs can be licensed from the UK (many of which are instead being snatched by streaming platforms BritBox and Acorn). The PBS series is more suited to the case-of-the-week format, and it would be wise to follow more of these shows instead (the aforementioned “Annika” fits nicely in this category).

A recurring stereotype of Copaganda is police work. selfless devotion this work is incompatible with a healthy home life. Somehow that old saw actually works for the new season of “Unforgettable,” but I can’t say the same for him. “Van der Valk” is a reboot (currently in its third season) of the 1970s British detective series based on the novels “Van der Valk” by author Nicolas Freeling.

The lead detective is Piet Van der Valk (Marc Warren), who is too focused on his job to maintain relationships outside of work. “You never had a private life,” says an old acquaintance pityingly. “Some things never change.” Van der Valk shrugs: “People keep killing people.”

Left to right: Maimie McCoy and Marc Warren play Amsterdam-based detectives in Season 3 of the series. "Van der Valk."

Warren may be recognized by American audiences as one of the stars of the British heist drama “Hustle,” and I wish his wily wit had been allowed to come here more often. The characters are probably supposed to be Dutch; Including Van der Valk, his partner (Maimie McCoy) who doesn’t take his moody moods seriously, and the coroner (Darrell D’Silva) with a big personality and great hair. ) – and yet they are all played by British actors.

Why would you set up a show in Amsterdam when nothing else feels so Dutch except for the filming locations of the show? I have a theory: Police officers and detectives in England don’t carry guns. As a result, British ways are almost always focused on figuring out who is doing what. Holding a demonstration in Amsterdam means the guns are back in action, and the show is overjoyed with their detectives waving guns at every opportunity.

Like “Unforgettable,” the season is six episodes long; each case takes two parts. A new sergeant from the traffic division is on loan to the team (Django Chan-Reeves), and when he arrives at the crime scene in the first episode, the coroner tells his colleagues: “We crossed paths in the lab, he’s as bright as a button and twice as smart. Far worse than taking him under his wing. you can do.” Van der Valk doesn’t move: “Yes, I’m a detective, not a chicken. Let’s focus on the body.” He’s quiet, but everyone treats him like a badged god. His intuition is always on. He’s so good.

Again an old trope, but a reliable metaphor.

Masterpiece Mystery: “Forgotten” and “Van der Valk” — 2.5 stars (out of 4)

Where to watch: It will air back-to-back on PBS at 8 p.m.

Left to right: A scene from Season 3 of Maimie McCoy, Marc Warren, and Darrell D'Silva "Van der Valk."

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.

nmetz@chicagotribune.com

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