The weird phenomenon of Death in Paradise – The Independent, Independent

The weird phenomenon of Death in Paradise – The Independent, Independent


Approximately 39 minutes into the first episode of the BBC’s returning Caribbean whodunitDeath in Paradise, a warm cozy feeling comes surging in. As is traditional on Robert Thorogood’s sun-kissed thriller, a brutal and confounding murder has been committed. Several suspects are under scrutiny, each with their own knotty motives. Things are verging on complicated.


But we’re reaching the end of a long week in January. Our attention spans aren’t what they used to be.Death in Paradiseis perfectly aware of that. So here’s Detective Inspector Jack Mooney (Ardal O’ Hanlon) clomping to the rescue of the fading viewer.


He writes the names of all the potential guilty parties on a whiteboard, along with their possible reasons for doing the deed. He even draws arrows, so that we know precisely how the possible perpetrators are interconnected. You settle a little deeper into your chair, knowing you are in safe hands.



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There is, it is fair to say, a range of opinions regardingDeath in Paradise, which begins its ninth series tonight . It regularly draws audiences in excess of 8 million, placing it comfortably in the top most-watched shows on terrestrial TV during its time on air.




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Yet critics are generally flabbergasted by its popularity – when they don’t even deign to acknowledge its existence. Among those who make it their business to know the difference between good and bad television, there is widespread bafflement that an easy-to-follow thriller set on a gorgeous Caribbean island should find favor with the public.


The puzzle ofDeath in Paradise’s appeal is, in fact, easily cracked. For all its impressive body-count, Thorogood’s romp harks back to breezier and more innocent times. Each week a fresh crime is committed on Saint Marie, a fictional setting loosely based on the French-governed archipelago of Guadeloupe(whereDeath in Paradiseis filmed).


Enter Detective Inspector Mooney, that rare modern TV detective whose personal life is not a distracting mess. As with his two predecessors on the show – played in chronological order by Ben Millerand Kris Marshall- he disentangles the mystery, the killer is unmasked. All before the news and bedtime.


To say I’m an obsessiveDeath in Paradisefan would be an exaggeration. I did not spend December counting down to the latest series. Nor did the revelation that Ardal O’Hanlon is moving on after three years – apparently the relentlessly sunny weather is too much – send me to the internet to vent my outrage. The news that he is to be replaced byRoyal Familystar Ralf Littlewasnt a topic of conversation with my friends in the pub over Christmas. There is noDeath in Paradiseexpanded universe to become immersed in. Once done, each episode immediately erases itself from your memory.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               (**************************************** (************************************************              Ardal O’Hanlon as DI Jack Mooney in the show (BBC / Red Planet / Denis Guyenon)              

But if it’s on and I’m not doing anything else – such as meaningfully engaging my brain – then, sure, I’ll watch. Such, I suspect, is the general feeling among its regular viewers. They, like me, may enjoy being reminded of such uncomplicated treats of yesteryear asBergerac,LovejoyorMurder, She Wrote. The world is angry and frightening, full of people shouting at one another on Twitter.Death in Paradisepresents an irresistible weekly escape hatch.


It has a charming backstory too. In the mid-Noughties, Thorogood was nearing – a struggling writer beginning to suspect he was wasting his life. His wife, a broadcast journalist with Classic FM, was supporting the family. His days were spent knocking around in his pajamas writing scripts he knew would never amount to anything.


Then, one morning in 2007, he happened to switch the radio on and hear a news report about the suspicious death of Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer at the Cricket World Cup in Jamaica. The detail that intrigued him was that local police had brought in detectives from Scotland Yard to help with the murder investigation (it was never proved conclusively whether or not Woolmer was the victim of a crime). In his bedroom office, where he was wrapped in his dressing gown and feeling slightly sorry for himself, a light-bulb went off.


“I imagined an uptight and by-the-book London copper trying to solve a murder in the sweltering heat of the Tropics. There was a series in this. I was sure of it, ”Thorogood later told the BBC.


So he had the germ of something. But how to sell it? He started knocking on production company doors. They saw the potential – but also balked at the costs such an undertaking would necessitate.

                                                                                                                                                                                                           (********************************************************************************************              Josephine Jobert and Kris Marshall appeared together in three series of the program (BBC / Red Planet Pictures / Denis Guyenon)              

“They liked the idea enough, but it would be expensive to make, it would require filming in the Caribbean for at least five months,” he later remembered. “And there was one thing they believed above all else: it was unlikely the BBC would allow someone without a writing credit to their name to create and write a prime-time TV series.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Salvation came in the unlikely form of a script-writing competition organized by Tony Jordan, former lead writer ofEastEnders, through his new production company Red Planet Pictures. Jordan, who was also the co-creator ofLife On Mars, pledged to give his full backing to any screenplays that caught his attention. Which Thorogood’s outline forDeath in Paradisedid.


With Jordan vouching for the project, the BBC and France’s national broadcaster France Televisions agreed to co-fund the production, Thorogood had his green light. A few months later, he was in the Caribbean scouting locations. The series debuted on (October) , drawing an impressive 5. 139 million viewers. That figure had jumped to more than 7 million when it returned in January 2013 (from the outset it was decided to maximise the appeal of the sun-slathered backdrop by airing in the bleak midwinter).


For all its success,Death in Paradisehas found it comically difficult to hold onto its stars. First to play the archetypal copper out of water was Ben Miller. But he left in to be with his partner back in London. He had spent 19 of the previous**************************************************************************************************************** months shooting in Guadeloupe. Enough was enough. So his character, DI Richard Poole, was killed off and Kris Marshall’s detective Humphrey Goodman flown out to investigate. But Marshall, likewise, found the strain of being away from loved ones too much and, with his family starting to grow up, packed in the show in (**************************************************************************************.


Next cameFather Tedstar and successful stand-upArdal O’Hanlon. He transplanted the agreeable befuddlement of Ted’s Father Dougal McGuire to the Caribbean. The result was a sort of Celtic Columbo (for those sufficiently ancient to remember Peter Falk’s wily homicide detective).


But the boundless sunshine and beauty of Guadeloupe apparently weren’t able to the actor’s liking. He has stated it was “time to move on and explore other opportunities – preferably nearer the Arctic Circle”. He is to be replaced by formerRoyal Familystar Ralf Little at some point in the present season. It’s like the James Bond conveyor-belt sped up by a factor of 15.


Nor is it just the leads that keep flying the tropical coop. Sara Martins, who played DI Poole’s original investigating partner DS Camille Bordey, left a year after Miller. She said she wanted to try different things. “The only way to grow in life is to take risks, even if it means losing something you love, or leaving a place that’s comfortable. You should always go forward and take new challenges. ”A similar restlessness appears to have taken hold of Danny John-Jules, who walked away from the part of officer Dwayne Myers after seven years. Shortly afterwards, he turned up onStrictly Come Dancing.


Yet far from a curse,Death in Paradise‘s inability to hold on to major cast members has proved an unlikely blessing . The BBC received definitive proof early on that the series is bigger than any one actor. In theory, this is a hit that could rumble on in perpetuity (at least one further series has already been confirmed). For as long as there is an appetite for elaborate murders committed amid golden sands and aching sunshine, the broadcaster can continue churning outDeath in Paradise. Thorogood’s mid-life crisis pipe-dream has birthed that rarest of things: the unkillable franchise.


“There’s something wonderful about that sort ofPoirot, Agatha Christie-style investigation: cross-questioning all the witnesses and checking their stories, looking for means, motive and opportunity, ”was how original star Miller defined the allure ofDeath in Paradisewhen initially cast. “It’s got that wonderful classic feel to it, at the same time as this incredibly unusual tropical island setting and a very remote tropical island at that, remote in the geographical sense. It feels like a different time and place. ”


‘Death in Paradise’ returns toBBC Onetonight at 9pm

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