While there are plenty of new shows and films to watch on various streaming services, some of the best shows are old but still seem relevant. One not to be missed: A Touch of Frost staring David Jason as a tough on the surface, squishy in the middle Detective Inspector working out of the fictional South Midlands town of Denton. The series ran from 1992 through 2010 and helped to launch the careers of many British actors, including Damian Lewis, Matt Bardock, Cheryl Campbell, Neil Dudgeon, to name a few. Consider it the British Law & Order, where, in any episode, a familiar face is sure to crop up. In fact, part of the fun of watching Frost is to spot these actors from ten or 20 years ago before they made the leap across the pond as Lewis has with his staring roles in Homeland and Billions.
Frost will remind American crime fans of that quirky Los Angeles police detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk for eight seasons beginning in 1971 on NBC before moving for several more seasons on ABC. Like Columbo, Frost is tenacious, smart, and, yes, irritating, particularly for any criminal caught in the crosshairs. He tends to turn up like the proverbial bad penny, asking one more question hoping to nail the perpetrator. Columbo became known for his soiled wrinkled raincoat. Frost’s outerwear is also tan and certainly rumpled, but something closer to a parka, more fitting to Britain’s cold weather.
The British series features regular characters who support and admire Frost for his considerable talents to figure out the most complex cases. That circle does not include his immediate supervisor, Superintendent Norman Mullett played with perfect persnicketiness by Bruce Alexander. “Horn-rimmed Harry,” as Frost has dubbed his boss, frequently needs a fall guy to serve on a platter to higher-ups. Ambitious, without the skills to rise in the ranks, Mullett occupies his time berating Frost for failing to submit time sheets, crime statistics, and expenses. Frost would prefer to spend his time battling crime.
Frost is based on the mysteries by R.D. Wngfield. A great deal of credit for the series goes to the writers who brought Wingfield’s character to life and managed to keep the plots fresh and intriguing, no small accomplishment since each season consists of at least five 90-minute episodes.
The settings in the British village are sometimes gritty, other times idyllic, but always the backdrop for murder. There’s little romance in the series. In the first season, Frost’s wife dies after battling cancer, but the marriage had not been a happy one. Since Frost was already married to the job, women in his life (and several do turn up in succeeding episodes), soon tire of broken dates and promises.
With Columbo, the guilty party was known from the beginning. The question was how Columbo would finally get his man or woman. Each Frost episode, however, keeps us guessing and there are always plenty of red herrings. And you may need a dictionary for the British slang the peppers dialogue in police headquarters. Frost is quick to zero in when a suspect tells “porkies” (lies).
Top photo: David Jason as DI Jack Frost (Photo: ITV Productions and Yorkshire Television)