The introduction to the PBS show Mystery! is classic. Suspenseful music accompanied by Edward Gorey’s memorable animation introduced yet another top-notch British detective series. For over 30 years the show followed a singular formula for success. It has been home to some of my personal favorite mysteries, among them: Cadfael with Derek Jacobi, Hetty Wainthrop Investigates, and Prime Suspect.
But things change, at least on the surface.
Mystery! has now been absorbed into the old Masterpiece Theater as Masterpiece Mystery! It’s one of the three variations of the show that will run through the year – Masterpiece Classic ran earlier this year, Mystery! throughout the summer, and Masterpiece Contemporary will run in the fall.
Producers chose Gillian Anderson to be the new host of Classic, while the new host of Masterpiece Mystery! is Alan Cumming, known for his offbeat, quirky roles in movies and his Tony award-winning turn as the Emcee in Cabaret (the new host of Contemporary will be announced later this summer). It’s the first new host for the show since Dame Diana Rigg left the job in 2004 (she followed the late, great Vincent Price). On paper, it would seem that Cumming is not a logical choice, but judging from the first two episodes he seems to fit the part well. He tones down his outlandishness, favoring a charming, affable manner to set the scene.
But while the host, theme, and tone may change, the show still brings top-quality British mysteries to the screen. The first three episodes of the new retooled Mystery! are from Inspector Lewis, a spin-off of the Inspector Morse series (Lewis was Morse’s partner in the classic BBC series). Lewis is a modern detective series, bringing a nice, gritty sense of place to the genre. Mystery! rounds out its summer season with episodes of Foyle’s War and the final Inspector Lynley Mysteries.