Falling hard for ’90s British comedy ‘Pie in the Sky’

Posted Sept. 03, 2010, at 7:22 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:46 p.m.

I am a sucker for all things BBC. I am a sucker for almost any kind of (no mince) pie. Naturally, I fell hard for the old BBC series “Pie in the Sky,” which I discovered on Netflix the other day. I don’t know how I missed this show that ran from 1994 to 1997.

First of all, the hero is no slim matinee idol with a pistol on each hip and a rocket launcher on his shoulder. Likewise, his wife is no silicone-stuffed Barbie doll.

No, Henry Crabbe, played by Richard Griffiths, is an alarmingly large man, so stout that you wonder where he finds his clothes. You know him as Dursley in the Harry Potter series. He is so fat that he makes me look good. Maybe that’s why I like the show so much. He relies upon his considerable intelligence rather than a blazing Glock, to bring the cases to resolution.

His wife, who is forced to open “his” restaurant, is the normal-looking Margaret played by Maggie Steed.

Crabbe is an impossible gourmand who leaves the police force after 25 years, partially because he is shot (the only gunfire in the show) to open a restaurant in the fictional town of Middleton. The restaurant is named, of course “Pie in the Sky.”

Margaret, the level-headed accountant, loves her man but would just as soon have a candy bar or prawn-flavored chips instead of his steak and kidney pie — the restaurant’s signature dish.

To complicate the plot, Crabbe is suspected of aiding the escape of the crook who shot him. Thus he cannot leave the police force with his full pension until he promises to aid the more complicated investigations and prop up his feeble supervisor, Freddie Fisher.

I suspect we all have met Freddie Fishers in our professional lives. That is why we hate him so.

The clever plot allows Crabbe to don his chef’s gear and solve the complication of the kitchen, and fresh vegetable suppliers, then be dragged off to solve the latest police crisis.

No one is perfect. Crabbe is a pompous ass who looks down his nose at “hotel food” and anyone who fails to recognize his particular genius. But he is charming, nonetheless. I forgive the faults of anyone, like Frank Renew, who feeds me.

The writing and acting are so clever that you hardly miss the bug-infested corpses, car chases, screaming sirens and the fusillade of automatic weapons that are the trademarks of most U.S. detective shows.

If you have seen one car chase, you’ve seen them all.

In one case on the first disc I received, Crabbe spots a crook from the old days, one who supposedly died in Europe a decade earlier. Crabbe follows the crook and confronts him at a racetrack. I was astounded as the crook admitted his true identity and simply walked away, instead of shooting up the track, killing a few dozen innocent civilians and maiming Crabbe.

There are surprisingly few gunshots as Crabbe relies more on intelligence and principle to solve the cases. Imagine the concept.

Prowlers, sudden deaths, retrieving rebellious daughters, missing lovers, psychics and fear of the restaurant critic are all elements Crabbe has to deal with as well as creating his signature steak and kidney pie (containing oysters and said to be highly addictive).

The kitchen staff, which includes at least one reformed criminal, is delightful.

The set is so cozy that I am tempted to pull up a chair and have some pie. I will reserve judgment on kidney pie with oysters. Of course the concentration on food and wine at 10 p.m. could lead to some unhealthy activities.

What leftovers do I have in the fridge?

But I have ordered the five other discs from Netflix. I will be speaking with an English accent by the time I am done.

Cheerio!

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