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July 11, 2008 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | July 11, 2008 |

Pop Culture Item Consumed: “McCallum,” a somewhat obscure British crime procedural featuring my first adult man-crush, John Hannah, as protagonist Iain McCallum. (And yes, he spells it “Iain.”) McCallum is a sort of post-modern Quincy/Jane Tennyson amalgam, a medical examiner for the London police who happens to be a hip, youthful, moody Scot toiling among busy Englishmen. McCallum spends most of his time advocating for justice for the dead through his investigative post-mortem efforts and crime scene analysis. In his off hours, he rides his motorcycle around London and tries to work through a complicated domestic relationship.

Beverage Consumed: At the risk of being unoriginal and repetitive, the Gin-Gin Mule, a tweak to the GiGi discussed a few weeks ago. You may recall that the GiGi featured six ounces of ginger beer, mixed with a healthy dose of gin, on the rocks. After knocking down a few dozen GiGis over these past weeks, I decided to see what the fuss was about with the added mint leaves. Muddled mint makes perfect sense to me with a mojito; even though I’m not a huge fan of the drink, rum + mint + sugar = sounds pretty good. I was skeptical about mint and gin, however, as such experiments have not gone well in the past.

Nevertheless, as a fan of strong flavors, I went heavy on the mint. Basically, you’ll want to follow the recipe for the GiGi from the Crash Real Time Review, but add a preliminary step of muddling torn mint leaves in the bottom of the glass before putting in the ice and mixing in the ginger beer and gin over ice. The soothing mint flavor provides nice counterpoint to the more tart, penetrating ginger and gin flavors, which some people - I’m looking at you, Mrs. socalled - have described as “medicinal.” Bwuh. At any rate, the Gin-Gin Mule is well worth trying if you happen to pass near the mint herbs at the grocery. Also, while I ordinarily oppose the use of straws as ungentlemanly, when wet leaves are floating in your cocktail, a straw is more or less essential.

Summary of Action: My high regard for John Hannah, which began with his heartwrenching role in Four Weddings & a Funeral, crested with his wistful, funny turn as the obligatory Paltrow-porker in Sliding Doors. Although Hannah has had a prolific television career in Great Britain, his access to American audiences has been limited primarily to supporting roles here and there, showing up as the comedy relief sidekick in The Mummy and its sequel and working in small roles in series such as “Frasier” and “Alias.”

If one inexplicably has a serious jones for leading man doses of Hannah - and I do - one must muddle through with DVD releases of his television work in England. As near as I can tell, over there Hannah is a go-to actor for edgy, dark cop/lawyer/doctor parts in British dramatic series such as “Rebus” (detectives) and “New Street Law” (barristers). Outside of FW&aF and Sliding Doors, however, Hannah’s best work comes as forensic pathologist Iain McCallum. During a difficult week, an hour of crime-solving John Hannah and a stiff cocktail can be quite soothing, and just recently I revisited that acquaintance.

“McCallum” ran as a series of eight episodes over a three-year period from 1995 to 1998, each a self-contained story. The pilot, “Key to My Heart,” is typical of the series, as McCallum struggles to reconnect with his former live-in girlfriend Joanna (Suzanna Hamilton). After an argument with Joanna, McCallum sleeps with a police colleague, only to have her turn up dead by gunshot the next morning. McCallum, responsible for the post-mortem, is also likely to become the chief suspect if the police learn of his involvement.

The police investigators are series regulars, a crack team of field investigators led by gruff, confrontational Detective Inspector Bracken (Gerard Murphy) and his assistant, Detective Sergeant Smalls (Alex Walkinshaw). Their interplay in investigating the crimes as the medical examiners analyze the scientific evidence frequently drives the plot, as clever discoveries in the lab don’t always match up with the detectives’ inquiries in the field. Bracken in particular is a wonderful character, a skilled and experienced detective with little patience for McCallum’s unconventional ways. Both are sympathetic characters, but they regularly conflict in their views, providing ample opportunities for two talented actors to tangle.

Another key regular is Zara Turner as Dr. Angela Moloney, a less experienced medical examiner working with McCallum. Viewers may recognize Turner from her best friend role in Sliding Doors, though most of her work has been in British television. As the series progresses, Moloney provides an interesting romantic foil for McCallum and his on-again, off-again relationship with Joanna.

If you like either John Hannah or British police shows, “McCallum” is likely to appeal to you, but it’s important to be mentally prepared for all the coincidences that get McCallum into various sticky situations with his work. In much the same way that every hamlet visited by Jessica Fletcher in “Murder She Wrote” ends up enduring a Terminator-level killing spree, McCallum almost invariably encounters some personal connection to the deaths he investigates, connections which, as noted above, often drive the plot. Whether as a suspect in the crime, as a potential victim of the killer, or in some other manner, McCallum somehow gets involved with the crimes he’s investigating with a frequency that can only occur in TV-land. (Of course, what are the odds that a brilliant surgeon, a former Iraqi torturer, and an FBI fugitive would crash-land on a desert island populated by a hostile scientific expedition, stray polar bears, and a mysterious black smoke creature?)

“McCallum” really can’t function dramatically without this plotting, as the central idea is that McCallum is somewhat isolated from those around him and rarely knows whom he can trust with certainty. But really, what we’re seeking here is a good story with extra John Hannah and some cool British cops. If you enjoy a dark murder mystery in rainy, washed-out London, give “McCallum” a try. A sharp slap of good British gin won’t hurt the experience either.

How the Pairing Held Up: A marriage of convenience more than anything else, but it’s hard to imagine being more contented than kicked back on the bed, sipping a gin cocktail and watching John Hannah solve crimes while flirting with Zara Turner.

Tastes Like: Watching Zara and Joanna fight over McCallum, only to giveinto a their mutual burning passion … wait, what were we talking about?

Overall Rating: 13 out of 17 scalpels.

Shameless Shill of the Week: One of AMC’s publicists contacted me after seeing the “Mad Men” review earlier this week to advise me that the show’s pilot episode is available in its entirety online at AMC’s website. For the uninitiated among you looking to get a jump on the July 20 Season One marathon, or for those of you who would rather watch good drama at work than, you know, do some work, here’s your chance to get the ball rolling.

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who would leave his barstool only to stalk Whit Stillman, if anyone could find Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

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"McCallum": The Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton

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