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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

The Commander: Set 1 (review)

A Blow for Equality

Oh, but women have come a long way in London’s Metropolitan Police since Lynda La Plante thrust Helen Mirren up the chain of command to DCI in Prime Suspect in 1991, almost 20 years ago. Today — or back in 2003, when The Commander debuted — there are enough women high up in the Met that they can afford to be mavericky rulebreakers like Clare Blake… at least on TV. As commander of the Serious Crime Group — several steps above the rank of DCI and the highest-ranking woman in New Scotland Yard — Blake has to have been a cocky so-and-so to get where she is, and that’s probably what fuels her recklessness once she’s there.
And that’s where this four-disc set of The Commander begins: with Blake having an affair with a murderer she sent away a decade earlier, a guy just out on early parole and starting to make a splash as an author. (His first book, written in prison and all about his crime and rehabilitation, is already a bestseller.) Yeah, she’s that kind of reckless. It’s a bit preposterous, actually, this first series, called “Entrapment,” but that’s what makes it so much fun: here’s a show about a female cop that’s just as ridiculous as the ones about the guys have always been. Amanda Burton, as Blake? Completely dishy, in a stately, dignified, classy kind of way, of course, which makes it all the more delicious when she gets down and dirty with the killer dude (played by Hugh Bonneville [Tsunami: The Aftermath], who’s kind of a blurry version of Colin Firth). As you might imagine, this torrid affair does not remain a secret, not among her colleagues — some of whom, particularly of the male persuasion, are quite jealous of her success — and not among the press. Oh, dear.

In the exclusive interview with Burton on Disc 4, she says, of the genesis of the series, “We wanted to make a very dark and quite a dangerous character,” and she and La Plante (Trial & Retribution) — who wrote all of these stories and serves as producer as well — have certainly succeeded there. The long-term impact of that one rash indulgence in “Entrapment” keeps coming back to haunt Blake throughout the three succeeding stories in this set: “Virus” and “Blackdog,” both from 2005, and “Blacklight,” from 2006. Not that that stops her from continuing to do as she pleases, even as her bosses chafe and her professional rivals continue to try to push her into corners. “She’s not really bound, I don’t think,” says Burton, “by what one would hope would be the normal practicing rules of the average policewoman.” But this is fantasy, and it is a tasty blow for female equality… the right to be as big a self-centered, make-your-own-rules asshole as men have always enjoyed. I’m not saying that’s a good thing in real life, for either gender, but as pretend? I love it.

The other great thing about The Commander? It’s an excellent example of how British TV does it all so much better, in some ways, than American TV does. These four stories, each spread over two or three episode and ranging in length from 140 to 150 minutes, are more like a series of connected novels than they are discrete episodes of a TV show as American audiences are used to. Each story has enough space to delve deeply into the motivations and messups of its characters, and each story is just as long as it needs to be, no longer and no shorter. And it must work, from a business perspective, because there were three more series of The Commander in 2007, and another aired this week on Britain’s ITV.

For now, these four stories are all American audiences have available. Check ’em out: they’re better than anything on American primetime at the moment.

MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
posted in:
crime | drama | girls/women | tv on dvd
  • Barb

    The Brits have always excelled in these type of shows and I actually prefer watching them than my Stateside ones. The one thing I am not happy about is the pricing (I have the 2nd set which is half the price of this set) but unfortunately set one is no longer available in R2.

  • blake

    I really wish you could see the rubbish we make.
    “British TV does it all so much better”
    We really don’t.
    The US produces some great mini-series, like Stephen Kings IT.

  • MaryAnn

    Does it all so much better *in some ways* is what I said.

    I know there’s plenty of rubbish on British TV. Don’t worry, I’ve seen some of it.

  • blake

    I hope you haven’t seen “2 Pints Of Lager And A Packet Of Crisps”

    I doubt you’d ever visit Britain again.

  • MaryAnn

    I’ve heard about that show.

    I trust that one horrendous TV show wouldn’t keep me from visiting the lovely nation and fine people of the U.K. again. After all, I’ve seen The Worst Week of My Life, and I still traveled there last fall.

  • blake

    I promise you, MaryAnn, when you see “2 Pints” you’ll think that The Worst Week of My Life is Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

    30 year olds behaving like 16 year olds isn’t funny, it’s tragic!!!

  • MaryAnn

    Then there’s probably no reason for me to watch *2 Pints.*

  • blake

    I can think of one reason…

    Watch US LOM and when you can’t take any more put on “2 Pints” and you’ll be begging for telly genius that is US LOM. In fact, do it with everything you dislike that you have to review.

    You could be watching one of the worst films/telly shows ever and you’d be :

    “Well, it’s bad. But it ain’t 2 pints bad.”

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