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DVD Review: Pie in the Sky: Series 2

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Pie in the Sky was a BBC1 detective show that ran from 1994 to 1997. Acorn Media released Series 1 last year, and has now released Series 2, which includes ten episodes on three discs.

The hook of the show is that Henry Crabbe, the main character, is a chef and owner of the titular restaurant as well as being a police detective (Harry Potter fans will recognize actor Richard Griffiths as Harry's uncle Vernon Dursley). For reasons explained in the first series, Crabbe is compelled to work part-time at both, balancing running his restaurant with his police work. Malcom Sinclair plays his boss, Chief Constable Fisher, who is often forcing Crabbe to take on assignments that require the chef/detective's brilliant mind.

Not that the cases Crabbe works necessarily require a genius. Pie in the Sky is lighthearted and lightweight, with Crabbe investigating things like peeping Toms, missing daughters, stolen property, and a stolen corpse. When he does get a murder case, like in "Swan in His Pride," the somber tone clashes with the more amicable tenor of the rest of the episodes. Pie in the Sky is at its best when it doesn't take itself too seriously. Crabbe is clearly more of a gourmand than a fitness buff, and applies brains rather than brawn to his police work.

The series balances the detective work with Crabbe's culinary pursuits, and the result is that the casework is sometimes sidelined. Large chunks of each 50-minute episode are devoted to the running of the restaurant. It doesn't make for especially complex mysteries, but watching Crabbe agonize over a steak and kidney pie recipe or whether his butcher is stepping out on him is a lot of the fun of the series. Crabbe is an everyman gourmet who loves fine food without being pretentious about it, and his unending quest for the best cheeses and cuts of meat is fascinating to watch.

He's backed by a good supporting cast, especially Bella Enahoro as his partner Sophia Cambridge and Maggie Steed as his wife/accountant. Griffiths' Crabbe is a great character, slightly peevish but essentially good-natured, and not above making his superiors look stupid when it suits him. There is a running subplot concerning the politics of the police department, and how Crabbe and Cambridge struggle to do their jobs amidst all of the politicking. The picture is clear and crisp, and the subtitles are helpful in deciphering some of the more colorful regional accents. Since the series is 15 years old, the dated fashions and technology are an added bonus; there are a lot of high-waisted pants, big-shouldered blazers, and mobile phones the size of small cars. Bios of Griffiths and some of the cast are also included as extras.

You won't mistake Pie in the Sky: Series 2 for Prime Suspect, but it doesn't aspire to be. It's like Top Chef mixed with Midsomer Murders. Pie in the Sky is not the most hard-hitting mystery ever made, but it has a gentle humor and offers mouth-watering glimpses into the world of fine food. Fans of cooking and mysteries will enjoy Inspector Crabbe and his exploits, both in and out of the kitchen.

About Patrick Taylor