"Taggart," a British mystery television series made by Scottish TV, premiered in the United Kingdom in September 1983. It was led by actor Mark McManus, as DCI Taggart. Unfortunately, McManus died in 1994, and the series also lost the flavorful actor playing its medical officer. However, the show was then led for several seasons by actor James McPherson, (a likable enough young actor, but too lightweight to carry the show), who had already been a cast member, playing DCI Mike Jardine. From 2002 to the present day, Alex Norton, (Patriot Games Special Edition [DVD]  ), has led the series as DCI Matt Burke. Blythe Duff (DS Jackie Reid) and Colin McCredie (DS Stuart Fraser) remain from the earlier cast, playing cops as hardened by Glasgow life as the criminals they pursue. John Michie (To Walk With Lions [DVD]) has joined them, playing DS Robbie Ross. This is the world's longest running police drama; it celebrated its 25th onscreen year in the U.K. in 2008, while still consistently ranking in the top 10 dramas in that country. Set 1, now released here, runs approximately 398 minutes. It consists of seven contemporary episodes, the complete 19th season of the series that aired in the U.K. in 2002. The bonus features of the set include a documentary that certainly fascinated me, at least, "Taggart's Scotland," about its locations. There are also, praises be, subtitles, thank you Acorn: that Glasgow accent is a killer, though it's delightful to listen to it in its localized particularity, so long as you don't have to struggle to comprehend it. The series was created by Glenn Chandler, who succeeded in giving us a show as gritty as the city in which it takes place, pitting a hard-bitten team of detectives against some of the hardened natives of the city. Initially, as the series opened on broadcast television, you saw a montage of Glasgow street scenes, and heard a biting "This Town is so Mean," sung, in regard to Glasgow, of course, by the magnificent Glasgow-born blues singer Maggie Bell. The montage remains, updated, with views of, for example, the fairly new, odd looking cultural center that natives call "the armadillo," that is sited by the River Clyde. An instrumental take of the song also remains, but without Bell's vocal; this is unfortunate, as she contributed greatly to the show's mood. At any rate, after the montage came one of the very best police procedural series ever made for television. One of the great strengths of this series, still, is the Glasgow flavoring, available in almost every scene: we learn a lot about Glasgow high and low. As the crazed mystery fan that I am, I not too long ago stayed in a Clyde-side hotel, within walking distance of the armadillo; and the series shows this landscape exactly as I saw it. "Taggart" must be considered a landmark; a precursor to the current Scottish school of "tartan noir:" the sheer bloodthirsty, dark violence, the unsentimental humor of this series has seldom been matched, and never bettered. Glasgow is a city centered on a dark, cold, scary, industrialized river; the city has some of the meanest streets in the world, and it produces some hard, hard people. Mark Mc Manus, who played Inspector Jim Taggart in the old days, brought a great deal to a part that must have been strongly-written on the page: he added a tightly-wound Glasgow note all his own, and an irascible, angry charm. He somehow conveyed a feeling that, as a Glaswegian, he took local crime as an offense to himself, and his city. I had quite a crush on him, but unfortunately McManus died of a heart attack, rather young, overwhelmed by a series of personal losses. In the contemporary series, the actor Clark, playing DCI Burke, seems to play his character as always over-the-top angry; it doesn't take anything to set him off. The current series also bows to contemporary taste by making each story arc only one episode long, rather than three, as the earlier stories were. They have therefore lost a lot of the complexity, subtlety - and subversive humor - that were hallmarks of the earlier series. The episodes are: Hard Man, Fade to Black, Blood Money, New Life, Bad Blood, Halfway House, and An Eye for an Eye. Now, mind you, they do still constitute a strong British crime drama; one of the stronger to be found.
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