TV on DVD: The Beiderbecke Tapes (1987)

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Being that Headmaster Wheeler (Keith Smith) assumes that Greenpeace is a new drug hitting Yorkshire' San Quentin High School in the late 1980s, you can't really blame the man's illogical decision to punish popular schoolteachers Jill Swinburne (Barbara Flynn) and Trevor Chaplin (James Bolam) for living in sin by sending them to Holland.

Of course, the lure of the far more sinful Amsterdam isn't simply a vacation but a penance concocted by Wheeler to pack off San Quentin's English teacher Jill and woodshop department's Trevor as school chaperones when it becomes common knowledge that the feminist and environmentalist Jill has let Trevor move into her place when his flat was torn down in the name of progress (or, rather, a motorway).

While at first our wisecracking, screwball romantic comedy descendants are irritated by the assignment, when once again Jill and Trevor become unwittingly involved in another high level case of governmental corruption and conspiracy, a change of scenery becomes much more inviting.

Similar to award-winning playwright, creator, and screenwriter Oliver Plater's first work in the Trevor and Jill-centric trilogy-- The Beiderbecke Affair-- The Beiderbecke Tapes finds the two schoolteachers turned unlikely amateur sleuths in an increasingly convoluted plot when once again Trevor's passion for jazz and especially the music of Bix Beiderbecke provides the impetus for the dangerous mayhem and comedic fodder that follows.

Although Trevor has packed along his two thousand tapes and thousands of records to Jill's place, shortly after visiting a strange local pub with zero customers, Trevor bonds with a barman over Beiderbecke who delivers him nine hours worth of jazz on a stack of cassette tapes the very next day. While Trevor can't wait to dive in, Jill becomes suspicious and annoyed by her lover and sure enough, her antennae is set off even more when one of the tapes segues from jazz to what sounds like a high level, governmental conversation surrounding nuclear waste. Curious, they revisit the pub, only to find the barman dead, and later shockingly very much alive when Trevor attends the stranger's funeral.

Strangers who aren't what they seem, Beiderbecke obsession, international conspiracies, menacing agents, those who go from dead to alive and vice versa would normally make for one downright bizarre miniseries but given the craziness that Jill and Trevor faced in the original, amusing, yet far too long Affair, they're much more equipped to handle danger this time around. In doing so, the duo battle threats with rapid fire jokes, problems with puns, and physical confrontations with the reliance upon some new friends such as a rowdy group of senior Scottish bagpipers.

While Affair lost me before the halfway point of the miniseries, I was delighted that I was able to keep up with the intricate nonsensical plot twists and humor far more effectively in Tapes... at least until Plater's second volume ultimately morphed into something that made about as much sense as Howard Hawks' filmed version of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep.

However, similar to Sleep, you honestly realize that it doesn't much matter since we couldn't care less about the red herrings and mysterious men who follow Trevor and Jill across the pond. And while this would be unacceptable in most mysteries or works of amateur wacky sleuthing, that isn't what Plater's series are about since the main mission of Beiderbecke is to entertain which it does tremendously in a sequel I enjoyed even more than the original, most likely because we've already been through the wild ride once before and realize that it's best to avoid obsessing about plot-holes or logic too much.

Yet another reason it feels more successful along with an enhanced video quality that makes the '87 production feel fresher than the otherwise outstanding '85 one may be due to its brevity of the much shorter 154 minute work as opposed to the original 320 minute opus that perhaps demanded too much intellectually with its wide-ranging subplots, characters and confusion. However, whatever the case may be, the wondrous chemistry of Flynn and Bolam, a truly witty screenplay, and terrific Beiderbecke modeled jazz music to give it a nostalgic feel make this a truly engaging find for those looking for an irresistible "they just don't make 'em like they used to" mix of jazz, screwball comedy, and film noir.

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