TV series review: Beyond Paradise – season one (BBC, 2023)
tl;dr: The Death in Paradise spin-off isn’t half bad, but it isn’t half good either.
For the past 12 years winters in Britain have been made brighter by watching an uptight British (or Irish) detective inspector solve crimes on a sunny island in the Caribbean. One such uptight, or rather more eccentric and scruffy, DI was Humphrey Goodman (Kris Marshall), who left Saint Marie a few years ago to pursue a relationship with Martha Lloyd (Sally Bretton) back home in the UK. Now, he’s moving with her to her home town of Shipton Abbott in Devon and Death in Paradise has landed itself a spin-off!
The DI’s new team consists of straight-laced detective sergeant Esther Williams (Zahra Ahmadi), inexperienced police constable (?) Kelby Hartford (Dylan Llewellyn), and quirky administrator Margo Martins (Felicity Montagu). Humphrey manages to make quite the entrance into their lives, and also manages to mess up his Chief Superintendent’s (Jade Harrison) first impressions.
“Humph” and Martha have moved in with Martha’s mother Anne (Barbara Flynn) while looking for alternate accommodation. Accommodation that they hope will be large enough for three, because they are trying desperately to get pregnant. Things get complicated when Archie Hughes (Jamie Bamber), Martha’s rich and handsome ex, shows up.
On the one hand, fertility struggles, on the other, solving the murder of the week. Because, of course, much like Saint Marie (or Cabot Cove, or Midsomer), this southwestern fishing village is a hotbed of criminal activity with a surprisingly high murder rate. Incidentally, a murder rate it only seemed to pick up after DI Goodman arrived, because they start off seeming like murder isn’t a common occurrence.
I have to admit that we weren’t impressed by the first episode. Yes, new shows have teething issues because they have to set everything and everyone up for the rest of the series, but the first episode felt forced and the characters a bit cringey.
The format of Beyond Paradise is familiar, the main character is familiar, but the thing about Death in Paradise is that we enjoy it because we can suspend our disbelief quite easily because it’s set in a place far, far away. Things work differently abroad, especially in small, remote places. – something also used by The Madame Blanc Mysteries on Five or even The Mallorca Files on the BBC. Guadalupe is such a beautiful filming location that you can forgive a lot. Swaying palm trees, the swell of turquoise waves, the sound of calypso music wafting through the air and you can easily excuse over-the-top characters, plot holes and inconsistencies and all manner of issues because we wish we were there too. (Escapism is exactly why new seasons of Death in Paradise always start in miserable January. It wouldn’t have the same impact in sunny July.)
The problem we felt with the first episode in particular is that Beyond Paradise can’t shrug and say “well, it’s abroad, innit?” or distract you with a rum cocktail and a sunny Caribbean setting. Devon is mainland England. There are no real culture clashes or fish out of water stories, so the team seemed like they were plucked straight from Hot Fuzz, except they’re not funny. DS Williams was unimpressed with her bumbling new co-worker, and I can’t blame her. Humphrey Goodman was quirky in Honoré, in Shipton Abbott he’s just annoyingly weird. Like a 1990s Hugh Grant romcom character, if said character was also chaotic and chronically disorganised.
All the things we can choose to ignore on Saint Marie become glaring flaws in Shipton Abbott. It’s like mixing Midsomer Murders, Hot Fuzz and (allegedly) Doc Martin, but without the charm or humour. As the episodes progressed, though, we both felt it got better, but we still both vastly prefer Death in Paradise.
To me the relationship arc felt contrived, as if Humph and Martha were basically just together because the script said so. They seemed less interesting together than Martha with Archie or Humph with Esther, but Humph and Martha are the show’s OTP so any problems they have will clearly be neatly worked out by the end.
Is Beyond Paradise great? Not by any means, but it’s fine. It does what it says on the tin. It’s safe, it’s comfort viewing for when you want to watch a whodunnit but not get challenged by anything and have the whole mystery wrapped up neatly at the end of the ~hour. And the filming locations are lovely, but I just prefer jerk chicken to fish and chips, you know?
3 out of 5 house boats.