Laura Thyme gave up being a policewoman after marrying her husband and instead devoted herself to being a housewife and caring for her beloved garden. After years of what she thought was a happy marriage, her husband leaves her for a younger woman. Not yet sure what to do with herself or where to go, Laura meets Rosemary Boxer, a plant pathologist and lecturer at a university. After a friend of Laura's is killed in a car accident that Laura is convinced was not an accident, Rosemary encourages Laura to accompany her so as to get her mind off things. Unfortunately for Rosemary, it's not long before she, too, finds herself having to deal with personal issues, after she loses her position at the university out of the blue.
Working together, Rosemary and Laura figure out what happened to Laura's friend and more. Deciding that they make good friends and partners, they build off their mutual love for plants and start a combination landscaping and plant/garden problem-solving business. In their capacity as gardeners (or whatever you want to call them), they often find themselves as newcomers in areas that just happen to have murders and other shady things going on. Because they're basically in the background, they overhear people saying things that provide clues to whatever mystery is going on. Also, sometimes their investigations into whatever plant-related problem they're trying to solve reveals something about the mysteries.
In these first few episodes, Rosemary and Laura look into murder mysteries involving unearthed horse and human bones, a health spa with flowers that may reveal secrets from years ago, a college trying to desperately to present a good image despite a few inconvenient deaths, a communal garden with a strange blight, and unrequited love.
I think my mom has the same obsession with British television that I do with Japanese anime. My first exposure to this show was through her - this was one of the many British mystery shows she checked out from the library, and I watched some of it with her. This is also one of the few recreational DVD titles we have at the library I work at. I checked it out because I knew I wouldn't be going to my parents' house during the Winter break, and this was a way I could stay close to my mom. Sappy, I know. It did give us something fun to chat about over the phone.
Whether I like a British mystery show tends to depend on a few factors. Do I like the main characters? Are the mysteries interesting? Do I like the setup?
The actual mysteries are interesting enough, but not spectacular all on their own. What makes them so watchable are Laura and Rosemary - these are definitely two likable characters. Had Rosemary not been so nice as to not want Laura to be on her own after finding out about her friend's death, I doubt that these two women would have met and become close friends. They're very different from each other in a lot of ways. Rosemary is more academic and more likely to poke her nose into things, at least in the beginning. Laura is more likely to be quoting (and believing) old wives' tales about plants and, at least in the beginning, she's more likely to put her faith in the police. Since their work almost always takes them to places where no one knows either of them, they only really have each other to confide in and puzzle out mysteries with. However different they may be, they get along really well.
The setup, two gardeners who either overhear stuff or find out stuff while investigating plant problems, isn't bad. True, there are plenty of instances where a normal person would have just told the police what they overheard and been done with it, but that's the case with a lot of mysteries starring amateur sleuths. Felicity Kendal (Rosemary) and Pam Ferris (Laura) are perfectly believable as people to whom strangers would confide information about a town and its residents - they always look just as interested in people's goings-on as they are in the plants and gardens they're trying to fix up. Actually, watching it made me think of the interactions you'll sometimes witness between a librarian and a visiting genealogist. The genealogist may know nothing about the librarian and may be meeting him or her for the very first time, but, at the slightest sign of interest, they will talk for ages about their ancestors and how they have conducted their research into those ancestors. I think it's something to do with being really, really interested in something, because I'm sure I've done it before with anime, although I'm less likely than genealogists to find someone willing to listen to me talk. Rosemary and Laura are two interested people who are more than a little nosy, so it's no wonder that characters in the show tell them all kinds of things not necessarily related to the plants they've come to look at.
One of the nice things about this setup being used in a TV series, as opposed to a book series, is the visuals - viewers are treated to some really lovely gardens and plants. In fact, there was one episode that I liked in particular because of its garden. "The Language of Flowers" features a garden with a waterfall that stopped working years ago. Laura and Rosemary are hired on to get the water flowing properly again, and to completely redo all the plants.That garden (once it's been fixed), and the larger one that Rosemary visits while doing some research, is really gorgeous.
I don't know what it was like, watching this show on TV, but, watching it on DVD, it was a little jarring to go from the first episode, in which both Laura and Rosemary are jobless and a little adrift, to the second episode, in which Laura have their business up and running. I'm sure it was done this way to spare viewers from the tedious details of setting up a new business, so that the show could focus fully on the murder mysteries. It still seemed a little odd to me. However, I was happy to see that this strange jump didn't quite include Laura's personal problems. She didn't just go smoothly from being married for years to being divorced, and yet her personal problems weren't permitted to weigh down the whole show, so issues only cropped up in a single episode, and only as a sidestory. I was a little surprised that Laura didn't turn to Rosemary for a shoulder to cry on during this bit (her husband sent her son to her to get her to sign some papers so that he could finally sell the house they had shared), but it's possible she just didn't want to show how much her husband still affected her.
It was probably another instance of not trying to weigh the show down with unnecessary things, but I kind of thought that Laura and Rosemary did not react as emotionally to some of the murders as one would have thought they should. For instance, Laura was a bit angry that no one saw anything wrong with the death of her friend in that first episode, but she didn't seem nearly as upset about his death and I would have expected. Rosemary, too, wasn't nearly as upset about the death of a professor friend of hers as I would have expected. Grief could have interfered with Laura and Rosemary getting on with their investigations (also known as "nosing about"), but, with their relationship with each other being so believable, it was a little too bad their relationships with others seemed a bit shallow. For this reason, I preferred the episodes where they dealt with murders involving people who had nothing to do with them personally.
Overall, I liked what I saw of this series. I don't see myself buying this one - gotta save my money for anime, manga, and books - but I'd certainly watch more of it. The mysteries aren't bad, I like Rosemary and Laura, and the plant problems they work on are occasionally interesting (my favorite was the one involving the patches of dead grass on a lawn - a good example of how the past can affect the present).
Considering the number of British mystery series I've seen with my mom over the years, you'd think the list below would have been easier to come up with. I did try to stick mostly to TV recommendations, rather than books. For those interested primarily in anything that has gardens, gardening, or gardeners in it, Fiction_L has an entire list of books that would fit the bill - you might try it if you'd prefer something to read, rather than something to watch, although I do include one book in my list.
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
- The Agatha Christie Miss Marple Movie Collection (live action movies) - I'm doing something a little unusual for me and linking this to an Amazon page instead of an IMDb page, because there are several different Miss Marple adaptations, and I wanted to be sure to link to the right one. I think this one is older than a lot of the others, and not as faithful to the books, but this Miss Marple would get along really well with Rosemary and Laura - I consider this the "kick-butt" Miss Marple.
- Cadfael (live action TV series) - This series stars a former Crusader who is now an herb-gardening monk detective. I think I may be stretching a bit with this one, since the setup is definitely nothing like Rosemary & Thyme and I think it might be a bit bloodier. However, if you'd like another British mystery series, you might try this. I remember the mysteries being interesting and Brother Cadfael being likable.
- An Unthymely Death and Other Garden Mysteries (book, anthology) by Susan Wittig Albert - This is a collection of short stories featuring China Bayles, the owner of an herb shop and the main character in one of Albert's long-running series. If you'd like to read a book-length mystery featuring China, the first in the series is Thyme of Death. I honestly don't know whether it's possible to read the short stories without having first read the books, since I've never read anything by Albert, but short stories can be a good way to at least try an author out, and this anthology also includes interesting herbal tidbits and recipes. This could be a good one for those looking for another gardening-related mystery.
- Calendar Girls (live action movie) - If Rosemary & Thyme primarily appealed to you because of its older female leads, who don't crumble in the face of personal problems and instead work together to accomplish something, you might like this movie. After the husband of one of the characters in this movie dies of leukemia, her friend wants to buy a sofa for the hospital's family room in his memory. In order to raise the money for the sofa, she and her Women's Institute chapter pose for a nude calendar. I usually avoid sappy stuff, but I remember really liking this one.