PBS goes 'Zen' in coming Sundays with Italian mystery series

The Baltimore Sun

If you want a little mid-summer escape via TV the next three Sunday nights, check out the new PBS mystery series, "Zen," starring Rufus Sewell.

I watched all three that were made available for preview, but I love TV mysteries.

And I have to say that while I started out thinking this was going to be winner, by the end of episode 3, I changed my mind. There are just too many problems with the lead character and writing for this to ever become a PBS staple like "Inspector Morse" or "Miss Marple" had been.

Still, don't let me spoil it for you. Here are some of the things I liked about the first episode, which airs at 9 p.m. (ET) Sunday (July 17) on PBS.

It is set and filmed in Rome, so the screen is constantly filled new and interesting images that we haven't seen 50 times before, which is the case with too many Brit mysteries.

I liked the style in which the series is filmed as well. It looks ane feels like a late 1960's or early '70's feature film about international capers. And images of Rome that I have seen filmed a million times are shot from different and dynamic points of view. The photography is very good.

And Sewell is a fine actor, who will convince you for at least the first epsiode that there is something going on inside the head and maybe even the heart of his character Detective Aurelio Zen. (You won't feel that way at the end of Episode 3.)

Things I don't like:

The plotting is so poor you could sit up all night after the final credits roll trying to figure out exactly who did what and why -- and asking yourself if some of the coincidences that lead to the solving of the crime were even half believable. (Don't worry, though, you won't care enough to stay up thinking about it.)

The tone is wildly uneven. This is especially problematic when Zen and the co-worker who serves as romantic interest (Caterino Murino) are together. I think the producers are going for romantic comedy, but what they come up with is a cartoon relationship.

And I am not crazy about the romantic interest either. Instead of someone who can act, they went for looks -- and then they put her in blouses so tight you wonder how she breathes. (I understand that for some viewers this might not be a problem. But I like my mysteries and romantic relationships a little more cerebral.)

And, finally, there is the matter of accents. Most characters speak in British accents even though we are supposed to be in Rome.

Usually, it is not a problem for me to suspend belief on such matters. But it was here. I guess that's because some characters spoke with a British accent while others had Italian accents. It became quite distracting after awhile.




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