Jill Scott returned last night for a second six-part series playing Mma Ramotswe, “Botswana’s top lady detective”, for more mystery-solving courtesy of the adaptation of Alexander McCall-Smith’s internationally best-selling novels.
Having never seen the show before, I was expecting it to tackle issues that – while not unique to Africa – at least touched on real crime as it pertains to the demographics and unique problems of the geographical setting.
However, by the end of the show, I was left with the conclusion that this is an Agatha Christie-esque, rose tinted, Rosemary & Thyme type show with – and I counted – three smidgens of realism. Otherwise, it was as mediocre and vanilla as Midsomer and the shows I’ve just mentioned.
There’s a great deal of romanticism in this genre of detective shows; this one just happened to be set in Botswana and not Yorkshire or some fictional English town. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that and the romanticism here came courtesy of stunning scenery, beautiful singing and charmingly quirky characters, but I don’t watch shows of this ilk by choice, and I won’t be watching this one again either.
The fact that Mma Ramotswe was finding business a little slow is on one hand odd in a country where crime is rife but on the other, not in the least odd when you consider the poverty that afflicts residents of the real Botswana so hiring a detective is probably not high on their list of things-I-need-to-spend-money-on.
For example, in the 2007 Botswana 2007 Crime & Safety Report from the OSAC, it states…
“As in most of southern Africa, crime is a serious concern in Gaborone and throughout Botswana. The U.S. Department of State rates Botswana as HIGH for crime. The criminal threat is very similar to that of any large urban area in the United States. Non-confrontational, non-violent crimes, such as pocketpicking, petty theft, and smash and grabs from vehicles are not uncommon. Home invasions and burglaries of unoccupied or vacant residences are commonplace. Burglars frequently use ruses to gain unlawful access to residential compounds/homes. Visitors should use extreme care when talking on a cellular telephone in public.
“Police in Botswana are sincere in their efforts to prevent and combat crime. However, their effectiveness is limited due to a lack of personnel, resources and training. While the police can be reached by telephone 24 hours a day, a prompt response is often hindered by a shortage of personnel and vehicles. Generally, police personnel are able to handle security incidents in a professional manner.”
So you see why I was expecting a show more along the lines of Wallander than Miss Marple?
However, the storyline of last night’s show began when Mma Ramotswe, together with her trusted secretary, Mma Makutsi played by Anika Noni Rose, decided to produce some advertising leaflets and had the apparently homeless young boy Wellington distribute them. This was the first bit of realism that I encountered but it only hinted at the fact that many children in Africa live in abject poverty and/or on the streets, alone and uncared for.
In the meantime, Ramotswe heard from her friend JLB Matekoni that his niece works for a dentist who alternates between being a very good dentist and nutter, so Ramotswe booked herself an appointment and came to the conclusion that he was indeed a “definitely disturbed dentist” and a fraudster as it turned out. The next case was a missing dog, closely followed by a missing husband.
Petal Siphambe reckoned her hubby Peter had legged it with another woman however, Mma Ramotswe found the pastor of the church Peter should’ve attended the day he went AWOL and was told Peter had been “taken by the Lord, body and soul”. However, the Lord didn’t take him, a crocodile did – fast food African style I guess – which was the second hint of realism in the entire thing.
The third and final morsel of realism was in the sub-plot that Mma Makutsi’s brother – who was sick in bed – demanded meals that his sister simply couldn’t afford to buy.
Ok, suspension of disbelief is what escapist TV is all about and I can’t deny the setting is far more exciting and visually stunning than a tea-shop in rural England or a muck splattered farmyard, but nonetheless, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to enjoy the plot.
While Alexander McCall-Smith’s novels are indeed international bestsellers, I personally wouldn’t read one of them. Just like I’ve never read a J.K. Rowling book either, nor will I. I guess it’s just a matter of personal taste and the The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency left no taste at all, such was its blandness.