Britbox is ready to bring us some of the best examples of British television, and this time they have an excellent crime drama up their sleeve. For decades, British television has been creating some of the best detective stories in the business. Shows like Luther, Sherlock, and Broadchurch are really some of the best examples of great actors, and great mysteries. So, as Britbox tries to make its content offerings more attractive, they clearly know that this genre could be the bread and butter of its service.
Karen Pirie is a TV series produced by the BBC that serves as an adaptation of the novel “The Distant Echo” written by Val McDermid. The three-parter adaptation tells the story of an unsolved murder that is brought back to the public’s attention thanks to a very popular true-crime podcast. As the police find themselves being bombarded by requests, they open up the case once more, and they assign, detective Karen Pirie, to lead the case review. What Karen and her partner Jason will find will change the case and the lives of those involved, forever.
Karen Pirie feels very much like a British TV series. It has every single element that has put these types of shows into their own genre. You have a couple of solid and charming detectives on a case that seems unsolvable. You have them working in the confines of a beautiful British landscape, and then you have that washed-up look in the images that can only come from the British weather. Karen Pirie has it all, and the result is a short series that will keep you on the edge of your seat for its duration. This is the perfect weekend binge-watch.
The main strength of the series resides in its cast. The series stars Lauren Lyle, Chris Jenks, Zach Wyatt, Ariyon Bakare, Michael Schaeffer, and Alec Newman. Lyle plays the titular Karen Pirie, and she is just a force of nature. We have seen Lyle before in other productions, but she is better known for her work in the fabulous Outlander series. Meanwhile, Chris Jenks, will be a familiar face for those who have seen Sex Education on Netflix. The two of them make for a very odd couple at first, but their relationship quickly develops into a great team dynamic.
The story is also quite efficient. Being an adaptation of a novel, the series is trying to make as very few changes as necessary, but some changes must be made. The series follows the plot of the book, and here we can see how much of a good writer McDermid is. Having us search for information along with the characters, proves that creating a compelling mystery is not an easy task. The series achieves this by really putting us along with the characters in the moments where revelations are made.
Unlike other shows that try to pass their characters off as highly intelligent, Karen Pirie is just a regular person. She has a very inquisitive mind, of course, but she doesn’t have any superhuman abilities that will help her notice things that are far beyond a regular person’s ability. This ends up creating a feeling that we are discovering things with the characters and not after them, or worse, before them. This makes for a very satisfactory watch, unlike shows like Sherlock, where you have to wait for the character to explain everything to you because he is so much ahead of everyone else.
The show’s look is quite solid. You will not find amazing visuals here. The show is very much a classic example of what British television looks like. Karen Pirie has the advantage of setting the story in the gorgeous Scottish highlands, which means we are graced by beautiful landscapes as the characters move around searching for clues. Yes, it looks like it is going to rain at any minute, but it doesn’t matter. The setting is very beautiful, and the producers take advantage of this.
The show consists of three episodes, lasting around an hour and a half each. These massive episodes could be too much for some people. Especially those who are used to the more accessible 45-minute format. However, once the plot starts rolling in the middle of the first episode, it will be very hard to not watch the next one. It is a bad situation for those who don’t have basically two free hours to watch each episode, but this makes every episode feel important and full of information.
In the end, Karen Pirie is one of those shows that serves its purpose quite well. The series is very well-made. Lauren Lyle is charming and an excellent protagonist for the show. While the plot and the central mystery are compelling enough to make you go along with the characters as they discover new clues at each step of the investigation. The conclusion might not be very memorable, but the journey and the process of getting there is highly enjoyable.