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Underrated leading man Rufus Sewell gets his best role in years as
Italian police detective Aurelio Zen in this summer's Masterpiece
Mystery series: ZEN - now in rotation in the U.S. [ >>>>>See note on
how to save this series at end of review<<<<< ]
Going against the grain of playing to younger audiences - and beautifully produced on location in Italy - this is a series for adults, lovingly crafted by a spot-on cast and shot with verve by cinematographer Tony Miller (INFINITE JUSTICE). Calling it a "detective series" seems to miss he point entirely, for it is really about watching Sewell establish an ultra-cool, post-modern anti-hero with the quiet confidence of a Raymond Chandler gumshoe and the personal flair of a '70s Alain Delon film noir protagonist.
Playing off an accomplished Italian/English cast ( see the office love interest embodied by the mesmerizing Caterina Murino), Sewell is a study in understated reserve that can turn testy when high-placed superiors want favors and cover-ups that are just not in Zen's wheelhouse. One of the fascinating things about Aurelio Zen is he must deal with a reputation for honesty that most of his cynical peers assume is just a pose, hiding a more crooked set of values closer to their own. It is too Sewell's great credit that he plays with this, sometimes showing Zen's more devious side, but then steering back to safer shores of a muted integrity that stays pretty dinged-up from episode to episode.
While there are satisfying moments of action and rather robust plot twists, still it is the face and expressions of Rufus Sewell that lock down this fresh, interesting series; his staying alive goes way beyond being able to think on his feet - for Zen must continuously side-step the dark expectations of his suspects and superiors, walking a tightrope between the half-truths and dangerous lies that make up his professional world.
In a TV universe of ever-falling standards, we should support this rare, intelligent portrait of a complex man trying to outsmart a world that grows more ruthless everyday. Those wishing to sound-off to the PBS execs that can perhaps reverse the BBC's initial decision to not buy more episodes can try contacting the American Executive Producer of PBS MYSTERY based at Boston's WGBH - Ms. Rebecca Eaton. In the past, she has been instrumental in saving several series that were not immediately picked up for a second season.-Brian H. Shaw b l o g "F.I.L.M.interpretation" at opera.com