The Gil Mayo Mysteries

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8-10 p.m., Friday, June 8
BBC America

As far as I'm concerned, there never will be a more entertaining hour of television than was "Moonlighting," the 1980s ABC hour that introduced the world to Bruce Willis (tending bar at the time he was plucked from obscurity). Glenn Gordon Caron so densely packed his scripts with one-liners and sassy exchanges between Willis and co-star Cybill Shepherd that the scripts ran about 25% longer, as I recall, than a conventional 60-minute series.

And one gets that same feeling while watching "The Gil Mayo Mysteries," which might not be a direct homage but embodies a similar lighthearted and clever romantic conceit that hits it just right. It's so verbally dexterous that it makes most detective shows and sitcoms feel dull and plodding by comparison. It doesn't try to teach us anything or be socially relevant, either, which is something of a relief. All it aims to do is be fun, and this is does quite well.

"Gil Mayo" stars comedian Alistair McGowan of "Bleak House" fame -- he of the bushy eyebrows and droll wit -- as the show's namesake star. He's a detective inspector (a title that seems nothing if not redundant) who looks to wisecrack his way through every whodunit he encounters. But not only is it murder at the office, it's murder at home, too, as he struggles to raise a feisty teenage daughter Julie (Lucy Evans) after his wife's mysterious disappearance some time before.

The "Moonlighting" angle comes into play early on in a stylish and irreverent opening episode when, while investigating the murder of a young millionaire who evidently had a nasty cocaine habit, he learns that he's been paired with a new detective sergeant with whom he has a bit too much history. She's the vain and gorgeous Alex Jones (Jessica Oyelowo), and she happens to be Mayo's ex-girlfriend and first love of his life. And naturally, they have a sarcastic and bickering but lovingly insult-laden relationship from the get-go. It naturally inspires a collection of breezily amusing exchanges and a wonderfully quirky sensibility on both sides. And of course, the sexual tension is palpable in our deadpan heroes.

In the first pair of episodes (aired back to back from 8-10 p.m.), the murder investigation is really beside the point, mere fodder that fuels the colorful turns of phrase that leap from the pages of writer Simon Booker's opening pair of teleplays. And director Metin Huseyin maximizes the chemistry of his leads in the quick-cut energy he attaches to the production. It's juxtaposed by the nifty work of Huw Rhys as Detective Constable Martin Kite and Loo Brealey as Scene of the Crime officer Harriet "Anorak" Tate, the sidekicks who carry with them a sort of quirky brilliance.

The show is based on a series of books by author Marjorie Eccles, but she's fortunate to have someone with the effortless charisma of McGowan bringing her creation to life. It's enough to convince us that every once in a while, style matters somewhat more than substance.

THE GIL MAYO MYSTERIES
BBC
BBC Prods.
Credits:
Executive producers: Sally Haynes, Will Trotter
Producer: Rebecca Hedderly
Teleplay: Simon Booker
Director: Metin Huseyin
Director of photography: Toby Moore
Editor: Anthony Combes
Composer: Joby Talbot
Casting: Jennifer Duffy
Cast:
Gil Mayo: Alistair McGowan
Alex Jones: Jessica Oyelowo
Martin Kite: Huw Rhys
Harriet "Anorak" Tate: Loo Brealey
Julie: Lucy Evans
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