However, unlike Father Brown, something about Death in Paradise’s heavy colonial overtones gave me the heebiejeebies, tainting an otherwise delightful experience.
Yes, I understand that the whole point of the show, other than the crime stories, is to contrast an inept, very British detective with a beautiful, chaotic, and warm Caribbean surrounding. That’s done quite well to wonderfully humorous effect.
But something about the reason why said British detective is there just rubs me the wrong way.
It’s not that the native people are made to look stupid or inept. Quite the contrary, they often come across quite adept at their jobs. And the junior officers are shown learning and growing in their careers, making the particular strengths they bring to their positions evident. The senior officer, who is also the female lead, is often put forward as intelligent and well-trained. But that very competence of the people who actually live on the island makes me as a viewer wonder why said British detective is even there.
He’s there to help them solve crimes, yes, but do they really need his help? He is really good at it, yes, but is he so good at it that they couldn’t do it without him? I’m not sure he is. I get the feeling they could do it without him. It just wouldn’t be as entertaining a story. And that’s what bothers me.
It’s the conundrum of stories with colonial backgrounds. If the people natively from the colony are too stupid to do the job on their own and need colonists to help, that’s a problem. But if the people natively from the colony are perfectly competent, they they don’t need any colonists to help.
I just don’t think there’s any way a colonial story can sit well with the modern concept that all races and cultures being perfectly competent and rational human beings.
In Death in Paradise, these bad colonial vibes are particularly clear where the female lead is concerned. She’s highly intelligent, trained well overseas, socially aware, works well with others, understands the community where they all live and work. And yet, she always plays second fiddle and assumed love interest to the stodgy British man who has taken over her office, and that just rings false to me.
I could see why an outsider would take a shine to her. I probably would in their shoes. But to me, that interest of the male other diminishes her character, weakens her. Where it seems like she would be able to solve all these cases if there weren’t an outsider always stepping in, given all the qualities that have been ascribed to her, she never has the opportunity within the context of the show.
Even with the cast change of said stodgy British male lead for the third season, even with the new British detective’s different way of being the oddball (clumsy and disorganized, rather than nitpicky and homesick) and his greater acceptance of the local culture, all those niggling colonial and gender problems continued, and if anything were amplified by the end of the most recent season.
All that being said, and all the things that made me uneasy about the show, I still enjoyed it and will watch more if more becomes available. I like the fact that it makes me feel uneasy. It helps me define the way I think and feel about the world, and gives me something to stand in opposition to. I wouldn’t advocate it as representative of, well, anything, but I definitely uphold it as something to enjoy both for pure entertainment’s sake and as an exercise in analytical criticism.
As for recommending, I’d say only if the genre piques your interest. It’s pretty formulaic if charming. If you’re already interested in the concept, you’ll enjoy it. Overall, it’s fare too standard and old-fashioned for most.