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12.31.08

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Phaedra

The Commander: Set 1

Four discs; Acorn Media; $59.99

Reviewed by Michael S. Gant


British TV writer Lynda La Plante's greatest creation, DCI Jane Tennison (Helen Mirren) of Prime Suspect, was flawed in her personal life, but she looks like a paragon of rectitude compared to Commander Clare Blake (Amanda Burton) in La Plante's The Commander. Blake doesn't just pick inappropriate boyfriends, she actively sleeps with suspects, up to and including a killer who has been released on early parole and is looking to restart his bloody vocation. She also manipulates her inferiors (and in a real coup, seduces an underling's boyfriend, who also works on the force; apparently, she skipped the sexual harassment seminar) and dissembles to her superiors. As if that weren't enough, she obtains evidence in ways that will never stand up in court. Watching the four minimovie episodes (about two hours each and originally aired from 2003 to 2006), you keep asking yourself, "How does she manage to keep her job?" It doesn't help that her main detective, DCI Mike Hedges (Matthew Marsh), is a blunt-spoken misogynist caught up in his own scandal over the shooting of an informer. At her lowest point, she even strikes a dubious pact to help Hedges in his cover-up in return for his silence on her own misdeeds. There are four cases in this set, although with a lot of overlap about smarmy murderer-turned-author James Lampton (Hugh Bonneville), who just won't go away. The crimes tend toward the sexually voyeuristic in the mode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, but the bristling dialogue and interoffice politics keep the show from being too grim. In the episode Blacklight, a Dutch actor named Yorick van Wageningen makes an amusingly persistent foreign cop who has Chunneled to London on the trail of a serial killer; having set up Blake as a predatory manizer, the show delivers a great joke when she blithely rejects the visiting detective, who figures that an invitation to spend the night on the couch means so much more.


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