How does a TV show deal with the loss of its main character? There are a handful of examples were shows managed it but in general such a loss spells the end of the show’s successful period. Think of Cheers and in all probability you’ll think of the Shelley Long episodes as opposed to the Kirstie Alley years.
Death in Paradise was never great television, but it was enjoyable enough. It wasn’t trying to analyse the human condition or offer social commentary, but it didn’t use its low ambitions as an excuse for complete stupidity in the writing. Unlike a number of shows firmly in the business of entertaining, By Any Means for instance, it didn’t insult the viewer with utter idiocy. Its weekly mysteries were enjoyable fun and as long as you bought into the set-up the implausible scenarios could be overlooked.
Ben Miller’s performance as DI Richard Poole was a big part of what made the show enjoyable. A comedian by trade for most of his career, he could pull-off the bumbling Englishman act without it being the increasingly annoying cliché it should have been. The dynamic between Richard and the other characters was one of the main reasons for tuning in. The romantic relationship between DS Camille Bordey and Richard, which again should have been another frustrating cliché, was fun with enough hints of emotion to it.
We’ll never see the pay-off for the sixteen episodes worth of flirting between those two characters though, because Ben Miller decided to leave the show for personal reasons, meaning episode one of series three revolved around Richard’s murder. Four college friends of the inspector’s were the suspects, and a new English detective arrived to solve the case.
It’s a pretty huge stumbling block, Richards’s death. It was impossible to watch the episode without constantly thinking about the TV show as a TV show: ‘Is this working? Are they making this new guy the exact same as Ben Miller? Oh, wait, that’s a bit different.’ And on and on. You can’t immerse yourself in a show when you’re constantly thinking about its artifice.
And immersion was a big part of Death in Paradise. The location is the best thing the show has going for it. You don’t see Caribbean islands much on British TV, and the alive and interesting location, the reggae soundtrack, the noise of the sea surf and all the other genuine local sights and sounds in this show is what pulls you in each week. That can’t happen if you’re constantly thinking about the production changes going on behind the scenes.
Kris Marshall played the new detective, DI Humphrey Goodman, and the show’s writer tried to make his character both the same as Richard and different at the same time. Don’t’ shake up the dynamic but don’t try and pretend nothing has changed, was the goal. So Goodman stumbled about awkwardly falling out of windows but also wears a more sensible suit for the climate and doesn’t drink tea. He solved the case in the end, discovering that one of Richard’s old college friends was actually an impostor, who resorted to murder to keep her secret.
Death in Paradise does really well in the ratings for the BBC. It’s the type of mainstream, formulaic show that could potentially survive the loss of its main character. A lot of people will be happy with a Richard Poole clone, adjusting to the slightly different rhythms, and tuning in for the fish-out-of-water jokes and the weekly mystery. For myself though, and for, I suspect, many others, this will be the disembarking point. It was never Breaking Bad or Mad Men or anything, but Death in Paradise had an enjoyable two seasons, and I leave it behind with a little sadness.
- If this review isn’t overly critical enough for you, then you can read this scathing take-down in The Guardian from last year. I’m sorry, but sometimes I just like TV, even if it is a bit simple. I can’t be miserable all the time.