‘No. 1 ladies’ detective agency’ dares edgy HBO to be sweet

Posted March 27, 2009, at 5:17 p.m.

HBO’s original programming has often been called “edgy” or “daring” or “raw.”

It has never been called “sweet.”

And yet that word best describes HBO’s latest, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” which debuts at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Based on the best-selling mystery novels by Alexander McCall Smith, the series, set and filmed in Botswana, follows the adventures of Precious Ramotswe (played by Grammy winner Jill Scott).

Upon the death of her beloved father, Precious sells the 180 head of cattle he left her and strikes out for the big city, leaving behind her abusive ex-husband and hoping to make a fresh start.

When the pickup she is driving breaks down during her move, she meets a person who will become an integral part of her new life, mechanic JLB Matekoni (Lucian Msamati). The two develop a friendship which he fervently if silently hopes will become something more.

Upon arriving in the capital city of Gaborone, Precious rents an old post office to house her detective agency, then hires quirky secretary Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose). Precious learns about her trade from a book, but she also uses a healthy dose of common sense to solve her offbeat cases, aided by Grace, JLB and hairdresser BK (Desmond Dube).

A relative acting novice, Scott is winning as the charming Precious, and she’s ably supported by a strong cast.

But the real star of the series is the sense of place that shines through. Not only is it filmed in Botswana, but the cast also is filled out with African actors, adding to the authenticity of the work.

Viewers should visit this corner of Africa through “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”

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