23 September 2004 | oshram-3
Too clever for American TV
Last summer I lucked into a new show that was a true rarity; funny, sharp, cleverly written, with engaging characters that were well cast and played off one another perfectly. It took me almost no time at all to get hooked on Keen Eddie, and it only took them seven weeks to yank it off the air. Now, there have been a lot of bad decisions made in the history of television, many, many good shows struck down before their time only so we could suffer through crap like The O.C. and the Swan. But after viewing the Keen Eddie boxed set, I'm convinced of two things: one, that never has anyone showed such poor judgment in canceling a show before, and two, whomever decided to release the series in a boxed set deserves sainthood right now.
Keen Eddie follows the story of Eddie Arlett (Mark Valley), a detective on the NYPD who botches a case and is sent to London to follow it up. There he is teamed up with the slightly neurotic but highly intelligent Inspector Monty Pippin (Julian Rhind-Tutt), and, under the direction of Superintendent Nathaniel Johnson (the always excellent Colin Salmon), he is turned loose on the greater London area, where his fish-out-of-water status actually becomes a strength. His home life is equally complicated; he is renting a flat from a woman whose daughter Fiona (Sienna Miller) is supposed to be at college but isn't; she and Eddie get on like oil and water.
But Keen Eddie is far from just another cop show; the humor is as important as the suspense, and both are executed flawlessly. Eddie's American ways sometimes cause friction with the English, but they also lead to his having excellent chemistry with each of the other people in his life. He and Pippin are opposites who work together flawlessly; he constantly irritates his boss, but also pleases the man because he's good at getting results; and he and Fiona verge on all-out roommate war, but you know underneath it they are simply made for one another.
The plots are heinously clever; Ediie must break up a fight-club type ring with the help of a well meaning but dim-witted young boxer and his white trash clan; Eddie must help the son of a famous pick-pocket stay out of much deeper trouble than his old man ever got in; he must enlist the aid of a former child prodigy who has fallen on hard times to help him nab a skilled safecracker; and so on. All of the plots have unexpected twists and turns, and all of them make deft use of humor. There are even tiny little devices in each show for the sharp-eyed; in one, Fiona and a co-worker square off, and at the party at the end of the show, Fiona wears a halo and her enemy a set of devil's horns as part of the celebration. In the episode with the child prodigy, who used to be on TV, every time he does something good, we hear a faint ripple of applause from a studio audience, and every time he does something bad, there is the faint hint of booing. One of the series best running gags involves Eddie and the Superintendent's secretary, Carol (Rachel Buckley); each time he greets her, she says something salacious to him that only he hears, and it throws him for a loop every time. Since no one else ever hears it, Eddie can't be sure if he's imagining it or not.
Every episode except one is very well done; the only less than exemplary one involves Eddie inheriting a Bentley, because it never really comes together. But the thirteen episode set is very impressive, and I found myself unable to stop watching them (I purchased the set two weeks ago and forced myself to watch one a day so I wouldn't cycle through them too quickly). Though it's hard to judge a show's overall impact on just thirteen episodes, I'd say that we really lost something by not having two or three seasons of Keen Eddie. It's possible that the high level of creativity would have been lost after a certain period of time, and all shows eventually run out of steam; but Keen Eddie had so much going on and was so cleverly done that it seems almost criminal that it was cut short so early in its run. At least we have the boxed set, which is a lot better than relying on third-generation VHS, but watching this show and seeing how artfully it was done, and then thinking about all the crap that's on TV now, it's hard not to feel cheated that we have only thirteen episodes instead of sixty or a hundred. Once in a great while a show comes along that's a little bit different, very clever, and almost flawlessly executed. So naturally it has to get cancelled early. But don't take my word for it; rent Keen Eddie, if you can, and see what you very likely missed the first time around.