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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pie in the Sky: The Complete Collection DVD Review

The complete collection of the popular culinary detective series.  Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter) stars as Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe – a semi-retired cop who would rather be in the kitchen than collaring criminals.  Seen on public television, Pie in the Sky debuted on BBC1 in the U.K. in March 1994 and aired for five series.  The show’s unique concept of a part-time chef and part-time cop, was original enough to win the show fans from across the world.  The series has featured a plethora of well-known guests stars, including Michael Kitchen (Foyle’s War), Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father), Malcolm Sinclair (Casino Royale), Jane Wymark (Midsomer Murders), Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes), Andy Serkis(The Lord of the Rings, Rise of the Planet of the Apes), Nicola Walker (Touching Evil, MI-5), and Keeley Hawes (Upstairs Downstairs).


Show (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 
Richard Griffiths stars as Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe who at the start of the show has been a police officer for twenty-five years and is on the verge of retirement.  That time can’t come soon enough for Crabbe since he’s tired of doing police work and having to make his superior look good.  Crabbe’s boss, Assistant Chief Constable Freddie Fisher (Malcolm Sinclair) has been enjoying the fruits of Crabbe’s labors for years and he isn’t thrilled that Crabbe is about to retire to open a restaurant.  Crabbe’s true passion is making food and it’s all he can think about so when he tries to wrap up his last case before retiring, he isn’t on the top of his game.

Crabbe’s been trying to catch a man named Dudley Hooperman (Michael Kitchen) for years and now seven weeks away from retirement, he finally gets his chance.  While on a stakeout for the man, Crabbe and his fellow officers notice Hooperman’s car returning to his hideout and then take off again.  While the other officers take off after the car, Crabbe remains behind on a hunch that proves correct when he discovers Hooperman waiting for him in a nearby building.  Hooperman has prepared a complete meal along with some wine and invites Crabbe to join him. Hooperman knew that Crabbe would find him so he arranged a meal so they could discuss the terms of his escape with Crabbe.
When Crabbe refuses to take a a huge bribe to let him go, Hooperman shoots Crabbe in the leg and escapes.  After losing Hooperman and getting shot, it’s the last straw for Crabbe who is now convinced that it’s time for him to retire.  He buys an old restaurant despite his accountant wife’s financial concerns.  Margaret (Maggie Steed) however supports her husband’s dream even though she’s worried that it will ruin them financially.  It doesn’t help that Margaret is the only person Crabbe knows that doesn’t appreciate his cooking, since she views food as simply fuel for the body.
When it appears that there’s some evidence of police corruption, Crabbe decides to look into it before leaving the force and he is soon framed by a corrupt officer into appearing to take a bribe from Hooperman.  Despite being completely innocent, Crabbe’s boss Fisher takes advantage of the situation to force Crabbe to remain in his employ on a part-time basis. Fisher knows the loss of Crabbe will hurt his department, so he proposes that Crabbe work on the side for any special cases that Fisher requires.  If Crabbe refuses, then Fisher will let the corruption investigation continue even if Crabbe is innocent.  Seeing no choice than to accept being blackmailed, Crabbe returns to his restaurant “Pie in the Sky” while continuing to help Fisher with his cases.
This show is an unusual blend of a detective show combined with a cooking show.  About half of each show is devoted to the current case, with the rest of the time spent on Crabbe cooking something.  Imagine Julia Child investigating crimes in between making crêpes and you have a good idea of this show.  It’s nice to see Richard Griffiths in a different kind of role than the ones he is so good at like Harry Potter’s cruel uncle Dursley, or snobby roles like King George II in the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie.   In this series, he’s not hamming it up and he plays Crabbe as a kind and decent man, who only comes alive when cooking is involved.  This is a pleasant show that would appeal to the “Murder She Wrote” crowd and it lasted five seasons.  Here are the episodes that can be found in this complete collection of the series:
1st Sries:
1.   “The Best of Both Worlds” – Henry lets Hooperman escape, and Fisher takes the opportunity to suspend his retirement.
2.   “The Truth Will Out” – a delusional cop seeks to bring Fisher’s ally down, and Henry recruits a new waiter.
3.   “An Innocent Man” – Pie in the Sky becomes the scene of a corruption sting, but Henry acts in favour of his customer.
4.  “Once a Copper” – Henry cooks a banquet for a visiting Japanese delegation, and tracks down a criminal from his past, who was presumed dead.
5.     “A Shot in the Dark” – a narcotics investigation ends in a bitten hand for Fisher, and Henry finds a new source of escargots.
6.   “Undesirable Elements” – Steve investigates the burglary of Pie in the Sky, while Henry does battle with murderous private sector cops.
7.  “Passion Fruit Fool” – the girlfriend of Henry’s dry cleaner is kidnapped by a psychotic ex-lover.
8.      “A Matter of Taste” – Henry uncovers two separate wine scams in Middleton.
9.   Who Only Stand and Wait” – Henderson’s neighbour finds a dismembered corpse, which may prove the innocence of an imprisoned man.
10.  “Endangered Species” - Margaret and Henderson side with Reynard the Fox in opposing a new bypass, while Henry must question his loyalties.

2nd Series:
1. “Hard Cheese” – Henry investigates a prowler fond of older ladies, and begins to suspect the celibate supplier of his cheese.
2.   “Brown Bread” – a corpse vanishes from the Pie in the Sky’s lavatories, and Henry soon finds himself investigating a counterfeit currency.
3    “The Policeman’s Daughter” – Fisher’s daughter joins a squat on Henderson’s field, and Henry is recruited to bring her back.
4.  “The One That Got Away” – The fish farmer’s fiance appears to have been murdered, and it’s up to Henry to save his best trout supplier.
5.   “Dead Right” – Henry becomes entangled with a self-publicising psychic, and together they solve the mystery of a missing girl.
6.       “Black Pudding” – Henry is reunited with his hero, Hillary Smallwood, and becomes embroiled in her nephew’s wicked plot.
7.  “Swan in His Pride” – Henry goes undercover in Bath to investigate the local constabulary, who are using a serial killer to mask their errors.
8.     “The Mild Bunch” – As two pensioners go on a fraud spree, the inclusion of Dundee marmalade in their trademark pudding motivates Henry to find them.
9.   “The Mystery of Pikey” – Two posh children take advantage of a poor fisherman, and Henderson falls in the river.
10.  “Lemon Twist” – Henry goes on a management training course, while Pie In The Sky is mobbed following a glowing review.

3rd Series:
1.   “Money Talks” – Henry stakes out a pizza parlor. John and Steve have left. A new chef, Gary arrives and helps Henry catch the pizza gang.
2.   “Game Pie” – Henry caters his friend’s pheasant shoot, where Fisher is among the guests. Another member of the party is shot and killed and it looks as if Fisher accidentally shot him.
3.   “Irish Stew” – An Irishwoman books the restaurant for a wedding banquet for her and her new husband. Byron’s briefcase is stolen from his hotel and Henry is suspicious of his reaction.
4.   “Doggett’s Coat and Badge” – Charles Rider, a wine-loving regular at Pie in the Sky, is being threatened. So Rider comes to Henry Crabbe for help.
5.   “This Other Eden” – Henry investigates thefts of valuable plants from gardens, while Margaret unknowingly employs the chief suspect.
6.   “Coddled Eggs” – While recovering stolen cars, Henry apprehends a larger smuggling ring headed by two Russians.

4th Series:
1.      “Devils on Horseback (1)” – Henry and Margaret spend a day at the races with her new client Bob Bishop. The corpse of stable lad Ben Tucker is found in a horse-box.
2.    “Devils on Horseback (2)” – Margaret stumbles on the killer. Meanwhile Nicola is annoyed when a school friend appears to be making a play for Gary.
3.  “Chinese Whispers” – The Chen family’s Chinese takeaway is set fire to, but Mr. Chen will not go to the police. His daughter Mei asks Henry for help.
4.  “New Leaf” - Henry must guard a safe house protecting an uncooperative star witness. He eventually wins her over with his cooking.
5.   “Breaking Bread” – To save money, Fisher employs a new company to supply the police canteen. Arrests go down and Fisher relies on Henry to find a reason to get rid of the new company.
6.     “Gary’s Cake” – When the restaurant is robbed, Henry closes the restaurant to do his own investigation, solving the crime in time to mark two years of Gary giving up alcohol with a celebratory cake.

5th Series:
1.    “Squashed Tomatoes” – Cambridge is gone and Henry is saddled with two new staff members. At the restaurant, Nicola has left and Gary is unhappy.
2.    “Ugly Customers” – Henry’s team go to the garish Luxor Hotel to protect a jury. Back at the restaurant Sally learns to get the better of a sex pest.
3.  “Pork Pies” - Henry and the squad go to a meat factory where animal rights protesters are demonstrating against the owner. Henry finds the sausages contain soy and are wholly meat-free.
4.   “Cutting the Mustard” – Henry is called to a school where a student has been beaten up by local youths. Henry finds a Chemistry teacher selling Ecstasy tablets.
5.  “Return Match” – Henry has to solve a series of thefts from lorries and gets unexpected help from private security firm Troubleshooters.
6.   “The Apprentice” – Nicky comes to Pie in the Sky, claiming he is there for work experience. Henry uses him in the kitchen and he impresses everyone. The till is robbed and Nicky goes missing.
7.      “In the Smoke” – The Crabbes holiday in London. Henry discovers a friend in hiding while Margaret finds a body in the trash.
8.   “Smelling of Roses” – Henry loses his sense of smell and mysteriously regains it when he resigns from the police once and for all.

Video (3 out of 5 stars) 
This full screen 1.33:1 transfer is about as good as you would expect from an older British television show on DVD. There isn’t a whole lot of detail present and it’s a soft looking show.  The colors are somewhat washed out and textures not as sharply defined as I would have liked.  Black levels aren’t solid and the contrast is only acceptable. Honestly, this looks just like a regular standard definition television broadcast which I guess is fine for this kind of show since it was not released on Blu-ray. At least this way, fans of the show can still watch it.
Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 
Much like the video quality, Pie in the Sky’s audio quality is equivalent to broadcast quality.  The Dolby Digital stereo track is limited but effective in what’s required of it.  The dialogue is clear on every episode which is what is important for a show like this that is primarily a dialogue driven show. This is a front channel heavy show so don’t expect the rear channels to come to life while watching this.
Special Features (2 1/2 out of 5 stars) 
This complete set is sadly lacking in extras but there’s some short extras for fans of the show.  It’s a shame that the main star Richard Griffiths doesn’t participate in any of these extras.  It also would have been nice to have some commentary tracks and a look behind the scenes of the show
  • Interview with Maggie Steed - This eighteen minute interview is the main highlight of these extras where Maggie Steed talks about shooting the series and her past roles and history.  I think fans of the show will like this conversation where they can learn a little more about one of the stars.
  • Production Notes – Some interesting tidbits can be found here for fans since there’s some good info about the show included.
  • Biography of Richard Griffiths
  • Cast Filmographies

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars)  

Pie in the Sky is an interesting hybrid of a show that’s one part detective show and one part cooking show.  It has a lot of fans worldwide that enjoy the unique concept of the show and Richard Griffiths is always fun to watch.  While this DVD collection could be better in both the audio/visual areas and the extras could be more robust, it’s still nice to have the show collected in one value priced collection.  Give the show a chance and you will probably enjoy it!

Order your copy today!

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