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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Death in Paradise

Sometimes all you need in TV is a simple idea, and the one behind Death in Paradise is very straightforward. Having first aired on BBC One in 2011, it’s a regular cosy crime drama filmed in Guadeloupe and set on the gorgeous fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie – but with a detective who is a British (or Irish) man abroad.

A standard whodunnit in escapist packaging, it is still running, having easily survived the problem of regularly having to replace the main character with a new inspector because the main actor has tired of working away from home.

One of those former leads, Kris Marshall, now heads up a new series that shows how big Death in Paradise is: it has a spinoff, Beyond Paradise, a case-of-the-week sleuther set back in England.

In other words, it’s Death in Paradise without the number-one thing people like about Death in Paradise – although historically Marshall must be somewhere close to second place.

Ralf Little may have just equalled his record as the show’s longest-serving detective, and Ben Miller originated the role, but if you close your eyes, centre your breathing and try to imagine Death in Paradise – feel the sand beneath your feet, hear the faint creaking of the storylines – it’s probably Marshall’s stringy, strawberry-topped misfit DI Humphrey Goodman who appears.

The new show has to replace the Caribbean sunshine with something, though, so instead Beyond Paradise offers the comforting cliches of several genres at once, beginning with the “London detective is odd man out in quirky rural setting” setup that Death in Paradise was a twist on.

Having been written out of DiP on the premise that he wanted to return to London to live with his partner Martha (Sally Bretton), Goodman is reinstated as a fish out of water in Martha’s home town: Shipton Abbott, near the coast, far into picturesque Devon.

Soon his bumbling eccentricity is annoying his new sidekick, the stiffly conscientious DS Esther Williams (Zahra Ahmadi), and the police station’s crabby office administrator Margo (Felicity Montagu).

As Marshall strides awkwardly through lovely narrow streets, if you replaced his puppyish optimism with grumpiness and the criminal mysteries he investigates with medical ones, you could be watching a different long-running drama smash. Another member of the team, dim young PC Kelby Hartford (Dylan Llewellyn), even looks a lot like a younger version of the super-dense policeman from Doc Martin.

The secret nobody wants to confront about Doc Martin, however, is that underneath the bucolic trappings it was a sharply written comedy. Beyond Paradise has some way to go before it can claim that.

The first episode keeps reaching either for an obvious old joke – Goodman, a tall man, is soon the passenger in a Mini, the front seat of which he struggles to adjust – or giving its lead character lines that aren’t especially funny or strange but provoke comedy frowns from the supporting cast anyway.

The case that drops into Goodman’s lap on his first day is reassuringly cushioned with familiar staples from the whodunnit canon.

The victim, a woman shoved over a first-floor balcony, naturally lives in the nicest house in the area – a swish timber-and-glass job built into the side of a hill that just about facilitates a locked-room teaser due to its front door, through which nobody has apparently passed, being the only entrance. The injured party, hospitalised rather than killed, puts the blame on the 17th-century witch who lived on the same spot, an oddity that only increases Goodman’s enthusiasm for the puzzle. At one point, the woman’s suspiciously supercilious husband literally says the classic line: “My wife has rather a vivid imagination.”

As the investigation continues, it centres on a ring of arrogant local businesspeople and professional types who have bitter secrets to hide, like all middle-class snobs in crime dramas (and arguably real life, in fairness). A separate trope, which it would be churlish to spell out, means any seasoned fan of detective shows will know for certain who the culprit is before the halfway mark.

It’s not a brilliant opening mystery, with its genre bromides and hang-on-a-sec plot inelegancies, but Death in Paradise has always been riddled with such things and hasn’t suffered, because the setting is everything.

The question is whether Devon, and a new focus on Goodman’s home life that provides more serious emotional drama, can replace the USP that is the far flung Saint Marie. Kris Marshall’s goofball charm will have to go a long way.

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