First time my wife and I came upon Ken Stott's performance as Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus was on BBC-America, and I have to admit we weren't quite sure we accepted it. We'd only just previously caught up on the first Rebus tele-movies via BBC-Am, and the shift in series lead from the sleekly young John Hannah to the considerably more care-worn Stott was more than a little jarring. To fans of the Ian Rankin crime novels on which the series is based, Stott's assuming of the role may have been more in tune with the original books. But to newcomers who'd come to the character from the telly, it was definitely what one producer laughingly calls a "Doctor Who moment."
Picking up the recently released Set Two box of Stott-headlined Rebuses (Acorn Media), though, we both found we had much less difficulty getting into Teevee Rebus Version 2.0. Set by themselves, the DVD collection of four mysteries ("The Black Book," "A Question of Blood," "Strip Jack," "Let It Bleed") quickly and efficiently establishes Stott's compelling take on the character. First time we see him (in "Book"), he's been kicked out of his girlfriend's apartment; stressed by her unwillingness to return his calls, he blows up on a visiting Detective Inspector who has unknowingly taken Rebus' parking space and angrily kicks in a car headlight. From that moment on, Stott had us both.
The four mysteries in Set Two all follow the same basic pattern: our hard-luck hero, assisted by the loyal but plain-speaking Detective Sergeant Siobhan Clarke (Clair Price), investigates an appalling death which puts him into contact with a prominent Edinburgh figure (member of Parliament, charity-minded entrepreneur, "untouchable" gangster, high-powered venture capitalist). Blunt Rebus immediately gets their backs up (he's clearly no Columbo when it comes to wooing suspects), but he presses ahead, anyway – even after he's been told to back off by his superior (and former lover) Gill Templer (Jennifer Black).
In the wrong hands, it'd all be formulaic and uninteresting, but because Stott lets you see the rage fueling his uncompromising approach to cop-work, it generally works. The one exception in this set: an overly cliché subplot in "Blood" where one of the victims proves to be related to our hero. You don't really need the family connection to fire up Rebus: his own heightened sense of how screwed up the world can be is sufficient. "I hate hippies," Siobhan sighs in a telling moment from "Strip." "Me, too," Rebus answers, "and I used to be one, you know." We believe him.
As mysteries, none of the four offerings here prove particularly puzzling; any viewer paying the least bit of attention will figure out the culprit long before they're officially revealed. Though "Book" teases us by including a mysterious notebook with a seemingly medieval code in it (original author Rankin tweaking all that Da Vinci Code nonsense?), its actual concerns prove more mundanely family-centered. As in many of the best police stories, the greater focus in Rebus is on its well-sketched urban setting: we see Edinburgh from all angles through our DI hero, who can barely bother to mask his disdain over both the low and high opportunists that he meets throughout the course of his investigations. "Did I say I was depressed?" our hero asks an attractive lady doctor at one point in "Bleed." "You don't have to," the doctor quickly fires back. It's all there in his seen-it-all face.