Netflix review: “The Last Detective”

One of our commenters, a while back, mentioned The Last Detective, a British semi-comic TV series starring Peter Davison, whom many readers will remember from All Creatures Great and Small, and as the first youthful Doctor Who. (Personally I liked him best as Mr. Campion, but that series didn’t last long.) Our commenter found the show depressing. I can understand this. However, I stayed with it and found things to like as well, though I can’t say I loved it all in all. The program is based on a series of detective novels by Leslie Thomas.

Detective Constable “Dangerous” Davies (his first name is never divulged) works out of a police station in Willesden, a North London suburb. His nickname is one of those antonymic male jokes, as in “Little John.” He is a laughingstock in the force. His superior, Inspector Aspinall, explains in the first episode that Davies is “the last detective” he will ever send on an important job. Apparently he testified against some other officer in an unspecified matter, and has been reduced in rank.

His personal life, which takes up a lot of screen time, is also a mess. He’s separated from his wife Julie, whom he adores, and lives in rental lodgings with an eccentric landlady in the first season. He spends most of his free time with his Irish friend Mod, who flits from job to job to unemployment, and reads a lot, generally coming to all the wrong conclusions.

Dangerous Davies is intended, it appears, to be a counterpoint to all those suave, omnicompetent TV detectives we see in other series. Davies has a life more like yours and mine, and the writers spare him none of those little indignities so richly distributed by life. Each episode opens with a short vignette in which he tries to do his job in a decent way, and gets rewarded with mud, torn clothing, personal injury, or public humiliation. He turns his eyes to heaven and carries on.

The series has an inherent weakness, I think, in the fact that it’s clear that Davies is not only a very competent cop, but the only non-idiot on the squad. Again and again he figures out the puzzle, but his reputation never seems to rise. (In one episode he actually takes responsibility for one of Insp. Aspinall’s errors, saving him a demotion, but even that doesn’t seem to buy him much.)

I think you could work out a Christian message in this. Davies is a man with a servant heart, who dies to himself daily and expects no reward for good work. Still, it’s kind of aggravating in the aggregate.

I thought the final, fourth season was the weakest, and it was probably time to draw the curtain on it. One positive development in Davies’ personal life was gratifying, but the writers seemed to be running out of ideas. One episode in particular, in which Mod got involved with a beautiful young Russian woman (that’s the sort of thing that TV writers love to invent, although it’s deadly to credibility) involved the series’ only moment of nudity (that I recall). Also, in another episode, Davies makes a “brilliant” suggestion to the forensic technicians which, I believe, ought to have been one of the first things they’d checked for.

The series is mostly unobjectionable, all in all. But if you’re prone to depression you might want to look for cheerier fare than this dark comedy.

2 thoughts on “Netflix review: “The Last Detective””

  1. Good Review Lars, You caught many of the quirky idiosyncrasies of the show which make it very enjoyable to watch. Finding a Christian message in his situation touches on the observation I made in my comment last summer (which I should credit to my wife for seeing it first and pointing it out to me).

    However, as The Last Detective, every time he wins he loses. The stories were contrived in such a way that every time he solved a case and arrested the culprit, you were left with the impression that the crime was justified and the world would be better had the case been left unsolved.

    Davies’ colleagues don’t deny his competence, but are put off by his lack of wisdom in not going along to get along. In a world of bureaucratic paper shufflers that succeed through self promotion and mutual backscratching, Davies sets out to do the right thing. That puts him on the outs with his colleagues.

    It reminds me of a recent conversation with a retired engineer who had worked for a major defense contractor. After refusing to sign off on a shipment of defective munitions, he was sidelined to minor projects with no raises or promotions for the next five years. While there is no direct persecution of Christians in America nowadays, this kind of indirect persecution is more prevalent than many realize. Seeking righteousness and justice simply does not fit in with the world’s way of doing things.

    Of course, truth wins out in the end. After five years this engineer won his companies highest award, bringing him to the attention of a VP who arranged a rapid series of promotions and raises to bring him up to a level commensurate with his experience and abilities.

    BTW Lars, I just missed you a couple of weeks ago when I dropped my kids off for a retreat at your campus. I parked next to Mrs. Hermanson and went down the hill to greet a couple of people before they left for the day. When I came back, you had left already.

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