Writing by numbers

Let’s talk about how terribly by-the-numbers BBC’s Death in Paradise is, shall we? It’s not a “fail” per se, more a rant about a decent show that went sour over the last few seasons. It’s a new feature on this site but it’ll still be fun so bear with me.

First things first: one thing that’s really amazing is that the small island of Saint Marie seems to see more murders than most American cities, most of which appear absolutely impossible to solve. Strangely though the police force never grows in numbers even though they should have plenty to do (or isn’t there any other crime on the island?)

The original cast - Image (c) BBC

The original cast – Image (c) BBC

The first two seasons of Death in Paradise were about the same as the later four in terms of general storyline (see below) but they simply offered more for the viewer’s pleasure. A stuck-up, stiff, very British inspector who always wore suits in the caribbean heat and was constantly sweating thanks to that outfit, didn’t like to get wet (on a gorgeous tropical island!) and had severe issues with women. His clashes with the much more laid-back attitude of his colleagues together with his dry wit however was simply very, very funny.

The second inspector - Image (c) BBC

The second inspector – Image (c) BBC

Unfortunately, he got killed at the start of the third season and replaced by the current character who’s exactly the opposite of him – apart from the woman issues. The not-so-new-anymore guy is a bumbling idiot who enjoys wearing casual and occasionally rather colorful outfits, constantly runs into awkward situations with the fairer sex and likes to stumble over his own feet. However, he’s a genius detective who can’t go wrong. The world can be funny sometimes.

With very few exceptions, each episode goes exactly like this:

  • Intro: we are introduced to a group of people. One of them will be found dead before the intro ends. There appears to be some bad vibe between the victim and at least one other person of the group.
  • The crime scene: The police arrives at the scene and they will start their work. It will turn out that there are four to five people – never more than five, certainly never less than four – who had some kind of relationship to the victim. Sometimes it’s work, sometimes romantic, doesn’t matter. All of these people have some kind of rock solid alibi, often provided by each other (which doesn’t make an alibi rock solid, but okay).Of course, none of them wanted the victim any harm, in fact, they loved the victim because reasons. Except for the one guy/gal the victim had some issue with (re: intro), but they won’t say that. Often, the room the body was found in is entirely inaccessible from the outside without being seen. Of course the group of people was together the entire time, no-one left even for a second. The police might find the odd item or two at the crime scene, none of which will make any sense.
  • The police station: the team sets up the murder board, complete with full color mugshots of the entire group (of course, no-one else is even under suspicion). Everyone involved will be named, their background will be stated and so on and so forth. The inspector will assign chores to the team and come to the preliminary conclusion that he has no idea how this crime could have gone down, but it’s pretty clear to him that the killer must be among the group of people.
  • (Optional) The commissioner: depending on how high profile the murder victim was, the commissioner might step in and remind the inspector that he/the mayor/someone else wants this crime solved as soon as possible. This scene is almost always exactly the same to such a degree they could have gone and filmed a dozen of them in advance without anyone even noticing. Of course the inspector agrees to the commissioner’s demands – what else can he do?
  • Reinterviewing the suspects: because the only people who could commit the crime are among the original group of four to five people, the inspector wants to interview them again. At this point, the red herring part of the plot is partially revealed: someone had an issue with the victim, and, after enough pressure, they’ll at least admit to that. However, of course they didn’t want the poor victim dead, they loved him/her!
  • Interlude – some comical elements: usually something revolving around Dwayne and his colleague. Dwanye is always funny so that’s alright. Unfortunately, sometimes the inspector is used as source of entertainment, which sucks because he’s not funny at all, just annoying as hell.
  • The police station, part two: the team comes together before closing time and discusses what has to be discussed. The result is predictable as well: nothing has changed, everyone’s still a suspect, but who was the killer? There also seems to be no motive at all. The inspector is still at a loss, but it’s “late” so let’s close up shop and start over fresh tomorrow, shall we?
  • The next day: usually starts with the post-mortem being completed, usually confirming exactly what we already know (the victim died of something). It’s positively amazing how fast the forensic pathology on the island works; there are never any delays unless the plot demands it (and it rarely ever does).The various background checks are also completed, often enough, either the victim or one of the suspects are flat out broke and one of the others could gain from the death, so there’s motive alright. It usually turns out at least one of the group members lied during questioning, but why? Some photos are shuffled around the murder board.
  • (Optional) The commissioner, again: at this point, if the commissioner made an appearance before, he will show up once more, reminding the inspector of his promise. Doesn’t matter that the investigation barely took a day so far.
  • Interlude – more comical elements: usually something something Dwayne, but in more recent episodes, the “funny” scenes often revolved around the inspector and his inability to talk to women he’s fond of. He’s a moron, we get it. Oh, and sometimes it’s about the commissioner as well, who tends to show up just in time to witness the joke at his expense.
  • The investigation continues: something comes up that wasn’t revealed during the first round of background checks or someone acts suspiciously. However, this doesn’t help in the least, the inspector still has no idea. Until …
  • The last ten minutes: … he suddenly goes into some kind of trance, rambles incoherently while flashback scenes play. He then states he knows who the perpetrator was and how he did it. He assigns the team to retrieve this or that item and get the group of people together for …
  • The final reveal: with everyone in one location, the inspector starts to pull a theory out of thin air. He usually runs down the list of people, asking them if they did it, but since he “knows” the answer already, he doesn’t really bother with any of them until he finally names the killer.Despite the inspector explaining everything in detail, there’s usually no way to understand how the hell he got to the point where he knew who to accuse. In most cases, the killer will defend himself with “there’s no proof for that”. Usually there really isn’t any hard evidence at all, but within seconds, the suspect will crack and admit everything, no matter how far-fetched the theory is the inspector presented.

    Since they admitted to the crime, there’s no real reason for a trial, which would be thrown out anyway with the “proof” the police have. No doubt the suspect will never recant his admission of guild, that’s not how the world works! The suspect is arrested, the end.

    (Optional): There was no murder, it was suicide, but someone from the group was responsible, so they get arrested anyway.

  • (Optional) The commissioner, once more: If the optional scenes occurred, the commissioner will appear one last time and thank the inspector for his great work. The inspector replies that he was just doing his job.
  • But we’re not done yet: often, there’ll be some kind of celebration in Catherine’s bar, the inspector’s house or elsewhere. More recently, this has been skipped/replaced with scenes about the inspector’s inability to talk to women he cares about.

As I said before, this general story outline was used even in the first two seasons, but back then the show at least had genuinely funny moments thanks to the old inspector. The story really doesn’t matter much as long as it’s funny or interesting.

With the current investigator, however, the paint-by-numbers story becomes far too apparent since nothing can really distract from it. Over four seasons, the show runner wasn’t able to improve on the inspector character at all – he’s still the same annoying numpty he was years ago. When the lizard he shares his beach house with becomes one of the more amusing “characters”, it’s time for a total reboot.