TV on DVD: Taggart -- Set 1

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The World's Longest Running Police Drama
Arrives On DVD From Acorn Media

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Whenever “there's been a murder,” as the catchphrase to the phenomenally successful Glaswegian detective series promises in each and every episode-- you can bet that Scotland’s finest will solve the case before the closing credits roll.

Glenn Chandler’s Taggart—“the world's longest continually running police drama”-- first hit the airwaves on ITV Network in 1983 featuring the titular character Jim Taggart (portrayed by the late Mark McManus). And throughout its 25 plus year run, Taggart (the series) has changed both in format length and with its revolving door of cast members that are currently headed up by the no-nonsense DCI Matt Burke (Alex Norton), DC Stuart Fraser (Colin McCredie), DI Robbie Ross (John Michie), and DS Jackie Reid (Blythe Duff).

In Acorn Media’s premiere set of the Glasgow hit produced by Scottish television for ITV (where it consistently draws in phenomenal ratings both in the UK and around the globe), we’re presented with the logically titled Set 1. However, the first set to hit DVD isn't one that chronicles the original 1983 premiere season but instead includes 2002’s complete 19th season of the series over the course of the three-disc slim packaged boxed set which contains seven episodes as follows: "Hard Man," "Fade to Black," "Blood Money," "New Life," "Bad Blood," "Halfway House," and "An Eye for an Eye."

Luckily for audiences unfamiliar with the program, you don't need a primer to get right in on the action as Taggart’s primary goal is to deliver a seemingly simplistic murder mystery which typically opens the episode and then proceeds to morph into an increasingly complicated conspiratorial and intricately plotted crime that reveals the secrets of Glasgow’s most sinister criminals.

While the same quartet of detectives populate each show and you can always count on Alex Norton's unintentionally giggle-inducing poker face and angry delivery of his most frequently styled dialogue (examples: “Good God, man! Come off it.”) as the veritable walking warning about the dangers of work-related stress and high blood pressure to try and add a ticked off, self-righteous charge to every scene-- it’s amazing how little we actually learn about the detectives.

Balancing out Burke-- who I kept thinking would probably be the most successful candidate in the history of the old game show Make Me Laugh for his inability to crack as much as a smile in his near-attempt to give himself an aneurysm with every new line of dialogue—we have the young, sensitive, technologically gifted “celibate homosexual” Fraser, the handsome but emotionally immature Ross, and typically cool and grim Reid as the obligatory “female.”

During each case, they employ their most successful modes of investigation to discover how the victim lived which would tell the detectives how and why they died (which Burke calls the first rule of the job) in addition to identifying the two most important keys-- motive and opportunity.

In Acorn Media’s impressively transferred set that thankfully boasts subtitles to aid in understanding their thick Scottish accents, the Glaswegian officers uncover multiple motives and secrets in its terrific opener “Halfway House,” along with a few timely medically and scientifically motivated deaths in “Fade to Black,” “New Life,” and “An Eye for an Eye.”

Although “Hard Man,” “Bad Blood,” and “Blood Money” admirably make the most of techniques and plot lines from film noir and some of the mysteries are quite clever in their succinct fifty minute running time, overall (and similar to the detached yet infinitely superior production value of the long-running standalone village mystery series Midsomer Murders), overall it's hard to feel that invested in Taggart's goings-on.

This is especially true as none of the detectives manage to engage and unfortunately-- in order to keep things interesting-- it’s far too easy to just wait until Burke appears on the screen to crack us up without even trying to see who he chews out next with his cliche riddled speeches. Therefore, in the end it’s Burke who proves that-- instead of the boxed set’s episode “Hard Man”-- he is the series’ “Hard Man” and moreover its unlikely comic relief as well and that one makes us laugh even harder the more he tries to play it oh, so straight.