Garden Variety

Not all of the shows I just wrapped up were deep, weighty dramas. I'm just as happy kicking back with a show that has much lower stakes, as long as it can hold my attention. I'm always on the lookout for something different, and found it in a little show called Rosemary & Thyme, which could easily be summed up as "English garden-themed Murder She Wrote". Three seasons of this show aired between 2003 and 2007, and after watching the first couple of episodes, I decided to jump in and watch the whole damn thing.

Instead of being a writer like Jessica Fletcher, the core characters in this murder-of-the-week show are Rosemary Boxer (a plant pathologist) and Laura Thyme (an ex-policewoman). The two of them have teamed up to form a small business renovating gardens and solving botanical mysteries like why a private school's rose garden won't grow. Invariably, wherever they've gone to lend their green thumbs is rife with murderous characters, and there is sure to be a body or two by episode's end. And just as in other "cozy mystery" shows, the audience is required to ignore the biggest mystery, which is why everyone falls all over themselves to confess their innermost secrets to two strangers who have stopped by to plant some hydrangea or why nobody notices that two nondescript women are solving more murders than Scotland Yard or why death seems to follow them wherever they go. The protagonists never really change or develop as people, so this type of show relies purely on the strength of the week's mini-story. That's fine; it's what you sign up for when you watch this or Murder, She Wrote or Psych or whatever.

Well, I wouldn't have watched three seasons of this show if the stories were crap. Most of them were pretty engaging. Felicity Kendal and Pam Ferris have a natural, easy chemistry, and it was pretty fun to watch them root out the evildoers of small English villages. It's nothing that you'd want to throw a million Emmy nominations at, but the majority of episodes were quite entertaining. And if you're into beauty shots of of colorful, English gardens, and rolling, green countrysides, you need to jump on this show immediately. Though there were a few disappointing episodes, at least one in each season was impressive enough to not only serve as the visual comfort food this show could usually manage, but broke through into being good television, full stop.

Season 1: "A Simple Plot" - Rosemary and Laura go to visit an old professor friend of Rosemary's who lives in a garden district composed of several privately-owned allotments. Random patches of his flowers are dying, but the professor's real problem is the nearby building site, which he vocally opposes. Someone bumps him off, and there are plenty of enemies to sift through. The murder methodology in this episode is more intricate and well-thought out than shows like this usually attempt, and the suspects actually have feasible motives.

Season 2: "The Gongoozlers" - A local celebrity known for her sailing prowess is brought in as a new host of a home and garden show that needs a ratings boost. Rosemary and Laura are doing the grunt work, and witness all the petty jealousies among the crew. Rosemary is sent to the hospital when a scaffold the hostess was supposed to be standing on gives way beneath her, so it's up to Laura to connect the dots when a visiting snoop reporter is electrocuted in the swimming pool and a car goes up in a fiery crash.

Season 3: "The Cup of Silence" - Rosemary and Laura are brought to a vineyard to assist with a nasty weed problem, and find themselves stranded there when their rickety old land-rover gives out. The situation gets even more complicated when a lifestyle critic there to rate the hotel and restaurant dies of apparent heart failure, but scrawls MURDER on his mirror before collapsing. The actors who play the warring brothers that respectively run the hotel and vineyard really sell their hatred of each other, and some time is taken to devote to our heroines working through the various mysteries, rather than just assuming they can pull answers out of thin air, which is sometimes an issue.

I don't want to oversell it too much, because it's not like this series will be showing up on anyone's Top 100 Shows of All Time or anything. But there's genuine pleasure to be gotten out of the combination of dastardly murder, bucolic scenery, and kind, clever lead characters. And on those fronts, this show delivers admirably.

Rosemary & Thyme: B


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