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Still Life does not appeal to audiences looking for depth and complexity. (Jean Demers)
Still Life does not appeal to audiences looking for depth and complexity. (Jean Demers)

John Doyle

Still Life: Louise Penny drama easy on the eyes and the brain Add to ...

At the time I’m writing this, on Thursday, the online TV listings at CBC’s website show an item for Sunday prime time on CBC TV and list it as a movie.

It’s not possible to click on the title and be linked to the details. If you allow the cursor to hover on the title, you will get tiny-type info about “a member of the community found dead in the woods of a tranquil Quebec community.”

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The item called “movie” is in fact Still Life: A Three Pines Mystery (Sunday, CBC, 8 p.m.), the first TV adaptation of novels by bestselling Canadian author Louise Penny, about Sûreté du Québec Inspector Armand Gamache, and set in the fictional Eastern Township village of Three Pines. You’d think there would be a bit of a fuss. Not so.

Still Life is a pleasant enough mystery, very much in the style of those cozy Brit TV mysteries featuring Inspectors named Lewis, Frost or Lynley. In fact, Armand Garmache is played by the chap who also played Lynley, English actor Nathaniel Parker. Cozy it is, and a wee bit dozy, but an ideal, comfy time-waster on a Sunday night and, of course, compelling viewing for those who like Louise Penny’s books.

It’s Thanksgiving in Three Pines, a village in the woods that looks lovely and seems to be populated entirely by artists, the rich, retired teachers and other such people. A retired teacher is found dead and an arrow through the heart killed her.

Along comes Gamache to investigate. For a while – a short while only – it looks like a genuine mystery. As most viewers will know, these twists are red herrings. There are, of course, the usual trappings of small-town life to be looked into. That is, old resentments and bitterness about money and land.

Someone points to a recent incident of gay bashing as a possible source of info on the murder. There’s somebody who indeed uses a bow and arrows to hunt. And then there’s the archery club. Also, there’s the mysterious business of a painting recently done by the deceased.

Written for TV by Wayne Grigsby, Still Life is nice, but the source material doesn’t offer much in terms of depth and dark secrets. Penny’s work is entertaining yet lacking in complexity and genuine darkness. While the Gamache character has some richness in the novels, on screen he’s bland. An honourable man, given to questioning authority, but lacking the sinew and muscle of a truly commanding character. There was some fuss made about an English actor being cast as Gamache, but it really doesn’t matter here – it’s all very much in the English tradition, really.

The production does have the merit of allowing Canadian actors to shine in supporting roles. Kate Hewlett is good as a friend of the deceased who ends up in jeopardy. Even better is Susanna Fournier as the mouthy junior cop Yvette Nichol. She’s a treat to watch.

Connoisseurs of the mystery genre will find Still Life easy on the eyes and the brain. But they will also be able to spot the revelations coming and, while that satisfies some, it doesn’t appeal to everyone.

Also airing thus weekend

The Newsroom (Sunday, HBO Canada, 10 p.m.) ends its season with the drama of the fictional TV news team covering the real November, 2012, U.S. election. In its second season, the series has been a little more subtle about TV news coverage, democracy and the trust viewers place in news. Still, there have been times when the speechifying wouldn’t stop, no matter how obvious the point being made. In fairness, some viewers adore its directness.

The 2014 Miss America Competition (Sunday, ABC, 9 p.m.) offers great mystery and presents many questions. Why is the 2014 competition being held in September of 2013? Do the contestants know that the year 2014 starts in a few months and not on Sunday? Is this, possibly, an elaborate art project meant to be clever and provocative about time and beauty? Also, of course, why is this thing still on TV?

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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