Blightyvision: “Kingdom”

Created by Simon Wheeler and Alan Whiting
Starring Stephen Fry, Karl Davies, and Hermione Norris

We’re up to our unmentionables in legal dramas over here, practically as much so as crime or medical dramas.  And because we are, that means there’s every possibility of the UK being inundated with them, as well — by which I mean ours in particular.  Thus when they turn out their own various dramas, they attempt to bring in elements that couldn’t exist in an American show.

Were you to try to Americanize the concept of “Kingdom,” you’d either fail miserably or end up with a show so far removed that it’d be silly to even try in the first place.  National freakin’ treasure Stephen Fry plays the title role — Peter Kingdom, to be specific — a small-town solicitor who is both an excellent judge of character and far more patient with the indigenous wildlife than most men in his line of work would be.  The bulk of the cases in Market Shipborough are what you would expect of a small town, but once (and sometimes twice) an episode, a big case comes along that puts Kingdom and his young trainee Lyle (Karl Davies of “Emmerdale Farm”) through their paces.

As with most of such dramas these days, every episode has a dual nature.  On the one side is the Case of the Week, with a one-shot ensemble that is entertaining more often than not; on the other, we follow the evolving story of Kingdom’s family, of which he appears to be the only truly stable member.  When we are first introduced to him, he is making a series of discoveries about his missing-presumed-dead brother Simon, whilst at the same time housing (reluctantly) his certifiably mad sister Beatrice (Hermione Norris of “Wire in the Blood” and “Spooks”).  The second series expands upon this portion of the metaplot, with the third spreading out its scope to include Lyle’s personal life and some new shake-ups in Kingdom’s small family.

The series was essentially a vehicle for Fry, which takes maybe about three minutes of the first episode to realize.  Fortunately, it’s a well-handled vehicle for an excellent actor, and while the majority of the drama and actor-ly leg-stretching is handed over to him, the rest of the cast gets their due to at least a small degree.  And the rest of said cast holds fairly strong. Celia Imrie (“Gormenghast” and Calendar Girls) plays Kingdom’s long-suffering and oft-neglected secretary Gloria, and comedian and fellow Footlights alum Tony Slattery has a recurring minor role as local lawsuit-addict Sidney Snell.

As a show, “Kingdom” takes its time.  It’s not an adrenaline-fest, nor is it ultraviolent, and even the witty banter goes at an even pace.  (Possibly one of the most wound-up moments of the entire series is Kingdom getting strung out on a magic mushroom omelet.)  Not every episode is stand-out memorable for its case of the week, but as one running story it’s very enjoyable and actually coherent.  And the last episode of the third series takes you right up to the wire with shocking revelations about the Kingdom family-

… which will never be addressed because the show tanked in its time slot opposite “The Apprentice” and will never see a fourth series.  Yes, I’m afraid it’s another unresolved cliffhanger, and an extraordinarily unfair one.  On the bright side (if, indeed, there can be a bright side to a show being cancelled), none of the questions left unanswered was raised early enough in the series that we end up feeling strung along for three years with no payoff.  Just something of an agonizing parting shot.

I’m gonna lay this out nice and basic for you — the target audience for “Kingdom” is Stephen Fry fans.  And it makes no pretense of being anything other than that.  Well-written, yes.  Atmospheric, yes (Swaffham served as the location for the fictional Market Shipborough).  Interesting, absolutely.  But we all know why we’re here.  And if that’s your style, you’ll love it.  Just have something in punching/kicking distance when the final episode rolls around.

“Kingdom” is available to watch in its entirety free on Hulu, thereby making it the most easily attainable thing I’ve ever reviewed in this column ever.