Rebus: Set 2
directed by Roger Gartland & Matthew Evans
starring Ken Stott, Claire Price, Jennifer Black
My introduction to Ian Rankin’s hard boiled Scottish detective came not from the original books, but rather from the previous television series starring John Hannah (you know, “Hey It’s That Guy, The Brother From The Mummy Movies”, Hat Tip Culture Geek ). With my previously limited exposure to Hannah, Rebus was quite a shock. I thoroughly enjoyed his portrayal of the rough and cynical Scot, so seeing that he was replaced by Stott meant that this new series had an uphill climb to impress me.
In short, they won me over. By the end of the fourth episode, I was fully accepting Stott as Rebus — his manner and demeanor, coupled with his line delivery, conveyed the general world-weariness of the character, while still being able to shine in those moments when something in the mystery grabbed his attention or fueled his dark sense of humor. His recurring supporting cast, also replaced since the original series, consists mainly of his younger partner, DS Siobahn Clarke (Claire Price), and his boss, DCS Gill Templar (Jennifer Black). The two women hold their own against Rebus, dealing well with his anti-social behavior, knocking him down a peg or two when he needs it, but realizing that he is a brilliant investigator despite all of his flaws. Likewise, the episodic supporting casts — the victims, families, and suspects — all have their own reactions and play off Stott to great effect.
The new show is not without its shortcomings, though. While the individual mysteries did a fine job of captivating the viewer, they did little to build any sort of overall structure. Of course, not every show has to have an ongoing plot (Babylon 5, Firefly), but even the most episodic shows tend to show the consequences of previous decisions playing out in later episodes. In this series, Rebus is kicked out of his apartment by his girlfriend in the first episode, but in the apartment without her in the final episode with no explanation given in-between. His meetings with the Department psychiatrist in the first episode are never mentioned afterwards. The original series went to great pains to incorporate more of Rebus the person into the mysteries. We got to know about his family and his friends and some of the reasons why he was the way he was. This series only gives lip service to that, with a few mentions of his family and past in one episode. That is what really fails to bring this version of Rebus above just another good British cop show filled with a lot of the standard tropes (loner cop, younger partner, by-the-books boss, etc.) into something truly special.
As for the DVD set, it’s quite nice. The transfer of both video and audio are crisp, with surround sound being effectively used to build the character of Edinburgh. Special features include a biography of author Ian Rankin, filmographies of the cast, a trailer for the series, and a detailed behind the scenes featurette that includes information and clips from the original series with Hannah. A word about the packaging — Acorn Media made a wonderful choice by packaging the discs in slimcases, cutting the size of this series in half compared to some of the earlier BBC sets on my shelves. However, I’m not sure the set needed four discs. With only four episodes and the featurette, I imagine three discs could have sufficed.
Rebus: Set 2 is filled with interesting mysteries, compelling characters and memorable set pieces. While not perfect, I think if they can incorporate Ken Stott’s portrayal of Rebus with some of the deeper character writing of the John Hannah series, they may have a definitive version in future episodes. Definitely recommended to fans of either British cop shows or of classic hardboiled detectives.