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Jessica Gross

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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency: Endearing, but not Engaging

Posted: 05/01/2009 3:22 pm

The No. Ladies' Detective Agency is to television as The Secret Life of Bees is to literature: it's palatable, and great for a beach vacation, but ultimately not stimulating enough to stick in your memory.

The six-episode series, which ran first on the BBC and then on HBO, is based on Alexander McCall Smith's ten-novel series of the same name. Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott) moves to Gaborone, Botswana's capital, to open the country's first-ever female-run detective agency. The show winds through Precious's detective cases -- which range from spying on a client's wife to investigating a stolen car -- and her relationships with her assistant, Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose) and her suitor, mechanic JLB Matekoni (Lucian Msamati).

The series is pleasant to watch. It features a beautiful Botswana landscape and lilting music and accents. But the combined effect was as easy to digest as baby food, when I wanted barbecue chicken.

Several critics have dismissed The No. Ladies' Detective Agency as not HBO enough -- it lacks the channel's typical "real-life grit." I'm not seeking violence or drama, but rather a connection to the storyline and characters that wasn't there. I felt calmed by the show, but too distant from it.

It was the actors' performances that left me feeling like a spectator: The characters became prototypes instead of personalities. Jill Scott, who has been lauded for her acting debut in this show, was the least problematic -- I could imagine conversing with her in real life. But Anika Noni Rose was an odd duck who played the awkward-nerd character to an uncomfortable extreme. Lucian Msamati, too, was stiff beyond the limits of normal human behavior. I found myself relating to several of the minor characters -- woman hitting on JLB in bar, episode five -- more than the intangible main ones.

If you're looking for a series to watch before bedtime or after a stressful day, The No. Ladies' Detective Agency is for you. But for challenging and emotive television, look elsewhere.

For more information on The No. Ladies' Detective Agency, visit the the BBC website.

 
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