The Brits usually know how to create a superior production… when it comes to costume dramas. Where suspense is concerned, I think American productions can keep pace with them. This BBC/Masterpiece Theatre Mystery! series was something that interested me after reading glowing reports on it and while it can hold up to the best of them, it is also a bit too ambiguous for its own good.
Zen (2010) BBC TV Review
A convicted man who was accused of murder but never admitted guilt has just been released after his year’s long prison sentence. Now along with his sons, he has but one thing on his mind: revenge. His short list of people consists of the judge who read the guilty verdict, a snitch who has given a new identity and the lead detective who was responsible for the arrest. His idea of vengeance knows no limits.
Aurelio Zen (Rufus Sewell) has a case now where two different conclusions by two contradictory authorities instruct him; and both of whom want very different outcomes. His boss (Stanley Townsend) wants the convicted murderer (Greg Wise) to stay imprisoned; he confessed to the murder at the time and that is good enough for Mosceti. The prime minister and his aide Colonna (Ben Miles) want to see the man exonerated. Colonna expects nothing less from Zen than that outcome, and he could make Zen’s professional life very difficult.
With two such opposite expectations, Zen recognizes that he’ll need some support and so he enlists the help of Mosceti’s pretty secretary Tania (Caterina Murino) for information and a possible lead. Smarter than most people give him credit for, Zen sees through the cracks in the case and senses that there is more to meet the eye – especially when someone begins tailing him.
Going into this BBC series, I had a lot of expectations. Told in the style of the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy or the Julia Roberts helmed Duplicity makes this a suave, sophisticated type of production. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy this set of three hour-and-a-half long productions – quite the opposite in fact. I thought it was a really entertaining way to build suspense. Instead of being exciting, this mystery is much more methodical and slow-moving; it takes its time in plotting its story and in the reveal of it all. Some of the time, I didn’t care one way or another and other times I loose track of where the case is going or what the implications suggest. It doesn’t help that the series is set in Italy and the actors’ accents are often a distraction. In my opinion that is somewhat of a failing for the show.
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However on the flip side, the acting is superb. Sewell plays the role of Zen to perfection. He embodies the role wonderfully and manages a cool old-school kind of detective that even though the setting is modern-day Rome, feels more like a classic oldie style. I love his quiet personality that somehow always earn him the last word; that last line of dialogue in “Ratking” couldn’t be more suited to the character of Zen or the series. Three “episodes” (“Vendetta,” “Cabal” and “Ratking”) comprise this, and it’s a show that the BBC cancels ahead of its time. It was just beginning to pick up in my estimation with the third title; also the the strongest of the bunch. So it’s especially annoying that BBC pulls the plug, as it were well before the show’s time.
Flawed as it may be, this is one British sleuth show that should have more leeway. It’s like a new spin on old classics like an Agatha Christie story, perhaps. Although I sometimes think I don’t, I really enjoyed the mysterious unanswered bits of this series – the parts that make the viewer fill in the blanks rather than spell every single thing out. It offers an indefinite conclusion, true but also the ability for the viewer to be a “part” of the story; to solve the case right along with the crack investigator and that is always fun. It may have taken me longer than usual to immediately love this series but I do suspect with time, it will become one of my favorite mysteries – after all, I have a feeling that I’ll pick up a lot in a second viewing, making it come off as a whole new enigma.
You can find Zen digitally on Amazon Video
Be aware: there is an extra-marital affair with a scene of the couple lying in bed sharing kisses; implications reveal they also engage in a rendezvous on their boss’ desk at work. Some British slang is present including the term “shag” and some profanity. Violence is limited but there is an attempted suicide, a man is pushed off a bridge, another is beaten to death and yet another is shot. One girl was raped by her father and is now not right in the head.