Sometime in the distant past, my parents made a donation to our local PBS affiliate, WETA. I don’t know when, I don’t know how much, but ever since then, they have found themselves on a fantastic mailing list that gives our family access to cool things. My parents went to a screening of a new Ken Burns documentary, and had nibbles with him afterwards. My mom and I went to a screening of the season premiere of Downton Abbey Season 5 – nearly a month before it aired. And we got to eat cookies, drink tea and pose with cardboard cutouts of our favorite characters. So when my mom emailed me with the latest event that interested her – a discussion about the many mysteries that WETA airs – I was in.
I do love a good mystery program. My favorite are the Endeavour – Morse – Lewis programs because Oxford is one of my very favorite cities. If you are a modern nerdy person and don’t love the new Sherlock (and are waiting ever-so-impatiently for new episodes), you’re basically wrong. I also love the Agatha Christie mysteries – the new Miss Marple played by Julia McKenzie is pretty terrific. And I once did a book report where I dressed up as Hercule Poirot and spoke in a ridiculous faux-Belgian-French accent. There are so many of the other amazing UK import detective shows that I haven’t had the chance to get into (so much to watch – ahhh!) like Grantchester, Midsomer Murders, Luther (the Boy thinks it’s a travesty I haven’t watched it – my mom agrees). I tried watching the US remake of Prime Suspect, but it felt wrong, even though I’d never seen the Helen Mirren originals. My friend A has repeatedly told me that I need to watch Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. But it turns out I’m not the only one who loves the WETA (and WETA UK!) mystery programs. There were so many people at this event – maybe 100? – and it was the second scheduled discussion of the day. If you deduced that 95% of the people in attendance were age 50 and older, you’d be right. Because apparently British detective shows appeal to Boomers and older…and the select few with excellent taste. 😉
In any case, the event looked like this – we were greeted at the door by Sherlock Holmes, escorted upstairs, greeted again by Miss Fisher, and then shown seats and where we could grab snacks. I grabbed a lot of snacks, because I have no shame.
And then we all sat down to the discussion. Leading it was Rebecca Boylan of Georgetown University, who teaches a class on Detective Fiction and Film. Starting out the talk, she said that one of the reasons why detective fiction and programs are so appealing is because it promises us truth, even if we don’t get justice. I think quite often our legal system gives us justice, but not necessarily truth. She discussed the reason for quirky detectives – those that chafe at their relationship with society or their partners – is because it makes the detective look at the world differently. Speaking of partners – they balance out the detectives, and give an opportunity to reflect back different perspectives. Or perhaps give us a way to relate to the detective, as with Watson and Holmes. The setting of detective stories matter – why does Oxford seem to be the crime capital of England? Because it allows the writers to show the difference between the decorum and order of academia and how murder interrupts that stability and security. Other settings like the Nordic outposts of Wallander have a similar function – the horror of crime interrupts the untouched landscape beauty. Shows set in London let us see the glitz and glamour of a fast-paced city with all it’s tension and seedy-underbelly exposed.
The evening ended with a discussion on the literary merits of detective fiction. Ms. Boylan’s response was, “What’s wrong with fun?” Her argument is that reading “fun” books can lead us to the next great thing. Detective fiction and programs also allows us to feel engaged as audience members, while still maintaining distance which makes us uncomfortable. Detective fiction also allows for another level beyond mere plot – most stories raise more questions about the plot than can be solved by our detective.
At the closing of the program, we were treated to a sneak peek of Endeavour‘s third season (ahh!! So exciting!!!) which begins on June 19 at 9pm on your local PBS affiliate. We were also told that the final-final season of Lewis will begin airing in August. Waahh. Sad Maggie is sad. Oh well – I guess I’ll have time to get around to watching Luther.