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Steak and kidney pie may have been the signature dish for Pie in the Sky's curmudgeonly “cooking policeman” with a conscience, Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe (Richard Griffiths) but by the time the fourth season of creator Andrew Payne's BBC series rolled around, the writing staff had also developed and mastered their own recipe for storytelling success with which they served up TV comfort food week after week.
Having encountered an artistic stumbling block in the overly formulaic and noticeably shorter third season of the charmingly offbeat mystery series, Pie's screenwriters took a page from a decidedly different crime-themed cookbook, by kicking off the start of this equally succinct installment with a two-part episode filled with new ingredients from the creative kitchen of horse racing mystery scribe Dick Francis.
While ultimately Henry – and by extension those associated with the show's eponymous restaurant Pie in the Sky – works best indoors cracking cases while simultaneously cracking eggs for steak and kidney pie, seeing the snobbishly sheltered foodie spend a day at the races with his taste-bud challenged accountant wife Margaret (Maggie Steed) marks a refreshing change-of-pace for the series.
And this is particularly true in the Series 4 two-parter “Devils on Horseback” wherein Steed's increasingly feisty Margaret manages to reach the whodunnit truth behind the case's confoundedly convoluted twist before her husband comes to the same conclusion, leading to a confrontation and chase of downright Hitchcockian proportions.
Unfortunately, despite a few shining moments here and there, the characterizations of both Mr. and Mrs. Crabbe have grown steadily unlikable from one season to the next as far-too-often, predictable conflict arises from Henry's cringe-worthy fuddy-dud reactions to any and every possibility of change for the restaurant and Margaret's immature plotlines frequently cast her as part of a dubious love triangle.
Aside from a few outstanding displays of integrity sprinkled throughout, from an out-of-character reluctance to sleuthing out the parties responsible for holding up the Pie in the Sky while armed to the teeth with guns, knives and acid to entering the Great British Grub Competition by customer vote-in demand, Henry is the epitome of irritable annoyance in Acorn Media's nicely transferred two-DVD showcase.
Although under-utilized in a six-part season as all main courses celebrated Chef Crabbe's culinary and crook-nabbing skills (sadly mostly without Bella Enahoro's Cambridge), thankfully the superb supporting cast blends together exceptionally well in the season-ender “Gary's Cake,” which ranks as one of Pie's strongest slices and brings the romance between Nicola (Samantha Janus) and Gary (Nicholas Lamont) to a boiling point.
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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.