Monday, May 25, 2009

Holiday Fluff: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Although I'm busy like crazy right now, trying to get through end-of-the-school-year activities, I did find time recently while I was doing laundry to watch a new TV series. Now I'm a big fan and I have to spread the word!

The series is called "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" and it's on HBO. They just finished the first run of the series but it will get repeated soon so if you haven't seen it yet, put it on your "record" list ASAP.

The series stars Jill Scott, an American singer and actress. She is a woman of size. Huzzah!

The thing that's most refreshing about the series is that this well-rounded woman is portrayed as a completely well-rounded human being too. How often is a woman of size allowed to be more than a one-note caricature on TV? Yet this character is. She's smart, she's sassy, she's vulnerable, she's assertive, she makes mistakes, she falls in love, she solves cases, and oh yeah, she's funny too.

I haven't yet seen the first couple of episodes in the series because I only heard about it partway through its run. I set my DVR to record the rest of the series, but I was so busy I didn't get to watch it for quite some time. In fact, I almost deleted it, thinking I'd never get around to it anyhow......but thank goodness I took a chance and peeked at it while folding some laundry one night! I quickly got hooked.

It's not a laugh-out-loud, smile-a-minute series. It's quirky and atmospheric, and the humor is more chuckle-y and character-driven. It also has some sad moments and a little romance thrown in for good measure too. It's just charming overall, and was definitely quite enjoyable. Even my husband got hooked after a while, despite initially thinking he wouldn't care for it.

Jill Scott, the star, was pregnant for the filming, so there's even a well-rounded mama connection!! How cool is that!

I was watching her in the series before I knew she was pregnant and just had a little inkling of something, that little intuition I get sometimes when people are pregnant. It was just the way her body was shaped and the way she moved, I think....kinda rang a memory bell for me. I shrugged it off at the time but now that I know she was pregnant during the filming, I get a little chuckle out of it. My "babydar" is still going strong!

The good news is that she had her baby last month. What a lovely gift for her after experiencing years of infertility, and what a note of hope to other women who have been through the infertility rollercoaster too. Congratulations to her on her new son!

I should note that the series is not perfectly fat-friendly. There are a few remarks here and there about "overeating" or vague insults about her shape from others, and they did pad her some for the role.........but the director and author were adamant about having a woman of size (what they call a "traditional build") in the role, and for the most part, she is treated with real respect and portrayed as a woman of beauty.

And she really is beautiful in the role, too. Look at her picture there. What a gorgeous woman.

There are also occasional people of size in other characters as well. Usually, on the rare occasion there is a fat person in a movie or series, he/she is the token fat person, rather than having a cast full of people of varying sizes to represent the diverse spectrum in most societies. So that diversity of size among multiple characters in this series was refreshing too.

The show is based on a book series by Alexander McCall Smith, and the action takes place in Botswana. Others have said that it stays very true to the culture of Botswana and is very respectful of its people. It is a fascinating and gentle introduction to this very inviting culture and definitely makes you want to learn more about it.

The series has quite a pedigree of famous people. The two-hour series pilot was directed by the late Anthony Minghella (Oscar winner for "The English Patient"); it was co-produced by the late Sydney Pollack ("Out of Africa") and co-written by Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and A Funeral"). Famous guest stars in the show include CCH Pounder ("ER" and "The Shield") and Idris Elba ("The Wire" and "The Office").

The lead in the show is Jill Scott, a Grammy Award-winning singer, poet, and actress. She plays Precious Ramotswe, a woman who ends an abusive marriage, then takes an inheritance from her father and turns it into a detective agency, supposedly the first in Botswana. Although she is a detective and the show features some mysteries, they are refreshingly less graphic than the usual "CSI" style fare and feature some unique African twists to the stories.

The secondary lead in the show is Anika Noni Rose, from "Dreamgirls." She is a Tony-award winning actress who is set to become Disney's first black animated princess character later this year. She plays Grace Makutsi, the secretary and aspiring detective at the agency. Her character is more stiff; the actress seems to be playing it for laughs and it doesn't work at first glance. But as the series progresses on, the character begins to "click" and her mannerisms become more quirky and humorous and gives some genuine chuckles later on.

I've read reviews that say that the pilot drags a bit and that the series doesn't really hit its stride until about halfway through. Since that's about when I really started watching, I can't say. All I know is that the last several episodes were really charming and if you start from the beginning of the series, it may behoove you to stick with it for a few episodes if it doesn't "spark" for you at first.

I look forward to catching the rest of the episodes soon and I really hope that HBO will make more in the future. It's certainly a series worth continuing.

*According to the HBO website, it looks like the series is scheduled to repeat next weekend, starting on May 30th and 31st. Be sure to set it to record if you get HBO. Definitely worth catching.


Anonymous said...

I love love love love this show! I love all the characters. They really cast this show well. I have seen all the episodes, and it's a treasure. Jill Scott is amazing! She is a wonderful big woman role model here. There are a few negative comments about her size, but generally speaking they really do appreciate her traditional figure, and she is always dressed in a beautiful and inspiring way.

Piffle said...

Grace Matuski is a stiff person in the books, that's her natural style. I adore the books too :)

JBigAdventure said...

I watched this show at a friend's house and came home and got an HBO subscription. It was that good! I love it and I'm so sad the season is over already! No, it's not your typical fast paced drama--it's more slow like how time is on a wonderful vacation. I don't always like how they deal with weighty issues on the show, but that's to be expected. More than anything I feel so amazingly validated seeing this large woman on my tv. It's so amazing! I can't wait for the next season!

Willow said...

I haven't seen the show yet-- sometimes I really regret not having cable!!-- but I ADORE this series of books, and I highly recommend them to-- well, anyone! Mma Ramotswe is a detective, yes, but mysteries take a backseat to relationships and human nature. Visually, the cast looks wonderful-- I can't wait till the series is out on DVD so I can catch it!

k. emvee said...

I admit to not having seen the show, but I did read some of the books. I have some thoughts regarding the comments about size (which are prevalent in the books as well). While in college, I studied abroad in Mombasa, Kenya. I was shocked over and over again about how often I was called fat. "Oh, you're so young and already so fat!" one person said to me. The more I learned, the more I realized that the comment was pure compliment. In the area I was staying, being "fat" was highly valued (especially in women), in part because it meant you had enough money to afford good food for yourself and your family.

It took me a long time to get used to. It took a lot of internal work to be (semi) ok with it. But regardless, I came to understand (at least intellectually) that I was being complimented when my size was talked about publically by good friends as well as complete strangers.

When I originally read McCall Smith's books, I read the comments about Mma Ramotswe's "traditional build" with the same affection I learned from my time in Kenya. I've never been to Botswana, so I can't be entirely sure this is the case (and of course Africa is a large and complex continent so what flies in Kenya does not always ring true a continent away in Botswana). I've also read elsewhere that these comments on Mma Ramotswe's size allude to her struggle to resisit the encroaching "Western culture" and its love of "fashionable" and emaciated women.

That said, I haven't watched the series and I have no idea how this would translate to a Western audience that does not value fatness as a sign of wealth and health. My thought is that unless done extremely well, it could be a complete disaster.

Unknown said...

Dear Well-Rounded,

Thanks for putting the Jill Scott shot up. God, is she hot!

As hot as the books and show. I've listened to all 10 tomes. HBO did Smith proud with its production.

We can thank Scott for that. She pulls her weight, that's for sure.

Keep up the fine work, Mama.

Bucky Fox