The No. #1 Ladies Detective Agency

By David Knox on January 4, 2010 / Filed Under Pay TV, Reviews 9

No_1_01daHer spirit is as big as Africa, and her inquisitiveness is even bigger.

Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott) is Botswana’s finest female detective. In fact Mma Ramotswe is Botswana’s only female detective. But she takes enormous pride in opening her new business on the dusty streets of a small village, as written in the novels of the same name by writer Alexander McCall-Smith. And she has much to prove.

This HBO / BBC series is unlike anything else on the box, if only for its vibrant location. The 2008/9 series comes with an impeccable pedigree: Its producers include the Weinstein Brothers (Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, Good Will Hunting), the late Anthony Minghella (The English Patient, The Talented Mr Ripley), the late Sydney Pollack (Tootsie, Presumed Innocent, The Electric Horseman) and Richard Curtis (The Vicar of Dibley, Blackadder, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’ Diary).

Fittingly, The No. #1 Ladies Detective Agency is filmic in style, with lush cinematography capturing the arid landscape of this country as the sun beats upon it. Minghella’s pilot episode was the last screenplay he ever directed. He sets the tone of the series, lovingly bringing to life the colours and music of Botswana, contrasting its widespread poverty. There are wide shots cars beating through desert roads, camera cranes hovering over bustling village markets, and at the centre is Scott as Ramotswe, who insists there is no problem so great that it can’t be solved with a cup of bush tea.

In the first episode Ramotswe appears as a curious young girl who, following the death of her father, applies her craft as a woman to her self-declared occupation. She opens an office in a ramshackle Post Office, hires a forthright graduate secretary in Mma Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose) and solicits business from wives whose husbands have strayed.

It doesn’t take long before she has cases with real crime.

Botswana may be bursting with songs of praise from its churches, but there are black markets, contraband and violence on the edges of this stark community. Ramotswe never shrinks from a fight, even from the country’s most fearsome thugs. Watching a woman square off against such threats is one of the attractions of the series.

The other is Jill Scott, who turns in a spirited performance as Ramotswe, easily shifting from the story’s dramatic moments to its lighter scenes. Together with Lucian Msamati as car mechanic Mr. JLB Matekoni and Desmond Dube as the flamboyant BK owner of the Last Chance Hair Salon, this is a formidable ensemble. Only the righteous Grace Makutsi will prove a challenge, both to Ramotswe and possibly to the audience. She never lets up on being right and reminding us of her 97% Secretary School Grades -the highest ever.

Clearly produced by UK and US interests on location in Botswana, it is hard not to see the series as an outsider’s interpretation of African life. Indeed two of the four principal actors are American. Support characters are so far two-dimensional, potentially reiterating African stereotypes. How would the end product compare had it been crafted by the African film community? Or would it never have been made at all?

Nevertheless, the series has so much point of difference from other crime dramas it is afforded much virtue simply for putting itself, and potentially Botswana, on the map. This is an easy hour of entertainment because it has some of the best names in the biz on board.

Precious Ramotswe is full of mad methodology in crime-busting. She is sure to surprise.

4_starsThe No. #1 Ladies Detective Agency airs 8:30pm Wednesdays on Showcase.

9 Comments »

  1. David Knox January 12, 2010 at 11:39 am -

    Not quite. Pilot aired in the UK in March 08 but the series didn’t arrive until March 09. Minghella’s death probably didn’t help.

  2. moog January 12, 2010 at 11:33 am -

    This is simply one of the most delightful tv productions I’ve ever seen. I thoroughly enjoyed the pilot episode – my only problem is trying to understand why a program made in 2007 has taken three years to reach our shores?????

    This show would have been an absolute boon for SBS and ABC and unfortunately us punters are held hostage by the ridiculous decisions made by buyers at these networks. Shame on them!

  3. Ruth January 10, 2010 at 5:05 pm -

    I’m with you Ianblair23 !!

    Loved the pilot, yippee, no Ad’s and very different to what we are used to.
    Looking forward to the next episode.

    If FTA had wanted The No1.LDA, then surely it should have gone to ABC or SBS.

  4. Ianblair23 January 7, 2010 at 1:51 am -

    Was quite impressed with pliot episode tonight. Nothing quite like any show on the box at the moment and especially on FTA. The viewing was made all the more better due to it screening on showcase with nary a single commercial in sight.

  5. Katrina January 5, 2010 at 3:24 am -

    This is a darling show and I am so pleased it’s coming back for a new season. Hopefully more and more people will watch so it stays on the air!

  6. Craig January 4, 2010 at 7:17 pm -

    This is one show I hadn’t even heard of before the promos started on Showcase, I’ll tune in. This would work great on SBS, maybe in a years time?

  7. david January 4, 2010 at 4:49 pm -

    Why is it that whenever some new show premiers on pay-tv and not FTA and is mentioned on this blog, someone whingers/complains about it not airing on FTA firstly, but then says something like “oh but most people would of already downloaded from blah blah site….”.
    For people who Don’t have pay tv, because of the price of subscribing or other reasons, Exactly what are Pay-TV Programmers supposed to show to get people to subscribe to there service? Repeats and more repeats of Welcome Back Kotter? Even more repeats of I Dream of Jeanie or Mister Ed??? Yeah right, 30+ year old programming is really going to appeal to the masses!!
    Surely Pay-TV has Every right on getting rights to some programming(including from Oversees).

  8. pietro January 4, 2010 at 9:20 am -

    Ma Ramotswe got me onto red bush tea which I was surprised to find at Woolies.

    But this is a wonderful show, beautifully acted and shot, and does full justice to the books.

    It’s a shame FTA viewers won’t see it but I’m sure many readers will have already seen the whole first series.

  9. Knowfirst January 4, 2010 at 6:25 am -

    Just a brilliant little show… can’t wait for more.

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