Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Zen, BBC TV show

Zen is a short-lived TV show co-produced by the BBC and WGBH Boston, which aired early last year in Britain and recently in the US. It only ran for three episodes of about an hour and a half before being cancelled. It will be of interest to the readers of this illustrious blog because it is based on none other than honest-cop-in-Italy (what a fate) Aurelio Zen, creation of the late Michael Dibdin, who wrote eleven crime novels featuring the Venetian detective.

They had the inspired idea of casting delectable Rufus Sewell (in the photo) as the lead. Much has been made of the fact that (gasp) this British program based on the works of a British author has people speaking in British English, despite really being Italians in Italy. As if this were something bizarre and newfangled. Well, folks, Will Shakespeare set a number of plays in Italy four hundred years ago, with people speaking in British English. And the women were played by men. So there. But it was jarring that the incidental background dialogue was in Italian, e.g., a waiter saying prego, people talking in the street in Italian. And some of the actors have Italian accents (because they're Italian), like beautiful former Bond girl Caterina Murino. But for me it worked.

Besides the mesmerizing presence of Rufus, highly reminiscent of Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, the series has a lot going for it. If you liked the Dibdin books or the similar novels of Donna Leon, you'll probably like these. The plots may seem over the top, but as someone who lived in Italy twenty years, I can say it's very hard to overestimate the convoluted and corrupt nature of that fair country. "Fair" in the sense of "beautiful," not "just." Production values are also good, with filming on site in Rome.

A mystery-in-the-mystery is why it was cancelled, despite good ratings. Some say high production costs, some say other things, but a conspiracy-theory-in-the conspiracy-theory makes me think that the Brits may have wished not to step further on the toes of their fellow Europeans to the south with this highly unflattering portrayal of il bel paese.

Catch it on streaming through or get the DVD's through Netflix (in the US).