As the third series of BBC's Pie in the Sky begins, viewers begin wondering if there's a different chef working behind-the-scenes in the kitchen of Henry Crabbe (Richard Griffiths). Instead of following the delicate and delightful recipe that's been perfected over the previous two years, Pie replaces a cup of sugar with a stiff drink.
Although post-traumatic stress can kick in at any time, the timing seems odd for Crabbe to be afflicted with nightmares which center on the master criminal and fellow culinary obsessive villain who'd shot our lead in the first act of the first episode of the first season.
Yet just as quickly as the dream is introduced, it's abandoned, almost as though it were used simply as a storytelling device to bring one up to speed when a “Previously on Pie in the Sky” voice-over plus video clip montage would've sufficed.
Unfortunately, instead of falling back into the established rhythm of Crabbe's dual roles serving as a chef of the show's titular kitchen as well as the reluctant detective whom his manipulative superior – Malcolm Sinclair's Assistant Chief Constable Fisher -- refuses to let retire, Pie changes the menu completely.
Emphasizing law and order as opposed to kitchen disorder, the disappointing reconfiguration of BBC's otherwise charming series ensures it's plotted, paced and produced like a run-of-the-mill police procedural.
And although it eventually rights itself by the next episode, initially series three is so difficult to digest that I stopped the episode twice, wondering if I'd either begun the wrong disc or had somehow missed a smoother transition from the previous DVD collection.
Needless to say, it's disappointing in comparison to Acorn Media's release of the earlier seasons both in Pie's creative quality as well as its technical transfer. Namely, the audio fades in and out, registering so low at times that it sounded like the wires from my Sony DVD player had somehow come unplugged on their own before remedying itself.
Still overall the succinct six episode collection manages to win us over with a few delectable winners augmented by its eccentric ensemble based approach. And as a fan of its easy-going, unmistakably British style that's reminiscent of both Doc Martin and The Last Detective, I'm especially fond of a few of season three's foodie-centric standouts, particularly one wherein the characters solve a wine caper.
Yet while the absence of the adorable bantering Margaret Crabbe (Maggie Steed) in two episodes is a letdown for devotees who thrive on her amusing squabbles with hubby Henry, Pie 's mixed batch of series three cases are made even more delicious by the writing staff's decision to explore the push/pull dynamic between Crabbe and Fisher.
In doing so, the scribes underscore the surface level antagonism with the revelation that they might be more alike than we'd originally believed and also – at the very least – bonded by something very close to true friendship. The welcome reevaluation of ACC Fisher is spread out throughout the blink-and-you've-missed-it two-disc set.
But the Fisher/Crabbe dynamic is moved to the front burner over the course of two episodes as he's first held responsible in an accidental shooting that Crabbe fears was a suspicious set-up and later when he and Crabbe must resort to shoe leather to pursue a suspect and out a bad copper.
Although in addition to the very real absence of Steed's Margaret, we do miss the British farce like staged chaos that occurs at the restaurant since aside from being challenged by finances and health inspectors, Crabbe's cozy kitchen is used as a near-afterthought for the first time so far in its series run.
Nonetheless thanks to the ingenious idea of a cop as a chef, Pie remains agreeably refreshing in the wake of too many gritty adventures of cops and criminals.Thus, even a slightly uneven collection of a handful of episodes is still far more satisfying than most bland helpings from the genre, making this entree one you'll eagerly serve again and again, regardless of whether or not by this point, certain ingredients are starting to stick to the pan rather than blend in with the rest.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.
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