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DVD Review: Pie in the Sky – Series 5

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This three-disc set collects all eight episode from the last season of the BBC series Pie in the Sky. The show, which ran from 1994 to 1997, featured Richard Griffiths as Detective Inspector Harry Crabbe, a police detective whose real passion is in the kitchen, not the crime scene. Through machinations explained in season one, Crabbe is forced to remain on the force on the eve of his retirement. He splits his time between managing his restaurant, the titular Pie in the Sky, and solving mysteries to make his boss, Freddy Fisher, look good.

As the season begins, Crabbe finds himself on Fisher’s newly formed Public Duties squad, a for-hire arm of the police force. This leads to a series of weak and unsatisfying cases that gets the season off to a slow start. The first episode sees Crabbe playing security guard for a housing development. In the second he’s watching a sequestered jury, and in the third episode he’s watching protesters. Hardly riveting stuff.

Things pick up with disc two. In “Cutting the Mustard,” Crabbe must investigate wrongdoings at Fisher’s old boarding school. The episode shows the usually slimy Fisher as an actual human. Malcolm Sinclair does a wonderful job as Fisher, the uptight conforming careerist whose pursed lips sometimes show the hint of a smile.

In “Return Match,” Crabbe is forced to babysit an alcoholic ex-soccer star who is Fisher’s ringer for a match between the police and a corrupt local security firm. This was one of the stronger episodes of the season, with Crabbe helping the soccer star face his demons, and his assistant chef Gary (played by Nicholas Lamont) talking about his own struggles with the bottle and prison. This also marks the point where the season takes on a darker tone from its usual lightweight and light-hearted approach to crime.

“The Apprentice” sees Crabbe taking in a troubled teenager who has fallen in with a violent street gang. “In The Smoke” has Crabbe testing the limits of loyalty as he investigates the disappearance of a friend while vacationing in London. The season and show ends with “Smelling of Roses,” in which Crabbe investigates a local businessman who Fisher seems to have a vendetta against. Fans of the series will no doubt be somewhat disappointed by the abrupt conclusion to the series, which makes it seem as if the writers found out while they were filming that it was to be the last episode.

If you are looking for a gritty, sexy, edgy cop show, than Pie in the Sky is not for you. There is little violence, less sex, and nothing racier than you’d find on a typical episode of Murder, She Wrote. Pie in the Sky’s selling point is the charm of its cast, and the way cooking is woven in to each episode. The cast is stellar. Griffiths is kind but unexpectedly sharp as Crabbe, the proverbial cop with a heart of gold who has somehow not been made cynical by all his years on the force. Maggie Steed is a wonderful foil as Mrs. Crabbe, who could care less about cooking, and Marsha Thomason joins as the new waitress Sally. Derren Litten and Mary Woodvine join the cast as Crabbe’s new partners Guthrie and Morton, and they do a good job with the few lines they are given.  

The picture is clear but not spectacular, about what you’d expect from a fifteen-year-old series. There are no extras whatsoever, which seems like a wasted opportunity. The discs are all packaged in one DVD case, which is nice for storage, as opposed to separate cases as with earlier installments.  

The one issue with Pie in the Sky is that it often struggles to balance the world of the restaurant with the world of the police force. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that a busy restaurateur would also work part-time as policeman, especially when Crabbe is called away from a busy weekend night to go sit on a stakeout. In general the episodes with the strongest kitchen storylines have the weakest mysteries, and vice-versa. It often felt like the policework was intruding on the restaurant, which was the more interesting part of the series. I found myself wishing that the series had continued on with Crabbe working full time at the restaurant.

Those gripes aside, this is a charming, fun series, and worth investigating for any fan of British cozy mysteries and/or gourmet French cooking.

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About Patrick Taylor