Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Taste of Sicily: Italian Television's Inspector Montalbano

Luca Zingaretti as Salvo Montalbano in Inspector Montalbano

For any fan of crime fiction, finding a new detective series is an exciting experience. I recently discovered Salvo Montalbano, a police detective in the fictional island town of Vigàta, Sicily. Inspector Montalbano is the creation of Italian novelist Andrea Camilleri, whose first Montalbano novel was published in Italian in 1994. While Camilleri has enjoyed success with other books, his twenty-one Montalbano novels (the most recent was published in 2013) have earned him and his irascible protagonist a special place in the hearts of Italian readers, making Salvo Montalbano easily Italy's most famous fictional crime-fighter. (So famous in fact that Camilleri's hometown of Porto Empedocle, which was the basis for the fictional setting of the novels, officially changed its name to Porto Empedocle Vigàta in 2003!) Since 2002 the novels have been steadily making their way into English – translator Stephen Sartarelli's version of the 17th novel Angelica's Smile will be available later this June – but for the telephiles out there, there is also an alternative way to enjoy Montalbano’s grumpy charm.  In 1999, Italy's RAI television network began airing Il commissario Montalbanofeature-length television adaptations of Camilleri's Montalbano storiesThe series, which is still in production, now boasts 9 seasons and 26 individual episodes – some with original teleplays but most using scripts adapted directly from the novels and short stories. An English-subtitled version appeared in 2012 for British audience on BBC as Inspector Montalbano, and the same episodes aired on the MHz WorldView network in the U.S., under the title Detective Montalbano. The show deserves a wider North American viewership, and fortunately, all 26 existing episodes are available on DVD. If you are a fan of crime dramas, and detective fiction in particular, you should seek them out.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

In for a Pound: Showtime's Penny Dreadful

Josh Hartnett, Harry Treadaway, Eva Green and Timothy Dalton in Penny Dreadful (Photo by Jonathan Hession)

Named for the Victorian-era pulp novels that captured the attention of young British men with their vivid tales of true crime and gothic horror, Showtime's new series Penny Dreadful premieres tonight. The show is a co-production of Showtime with Britain's Sky Atlantic and will begin airing for UK audiences on May 20th. The period horror series boasts strong production values, a talented cast of actors, and some genuine literary ambition. And also, it need not be said, vampires. Lots and lots of vampires.

With three seasons of FX's American Horror Story under our belt and the second season of its poorer Netflix cousin Hemlock Grove premiering in a month,  I wouldn't have thought that the television landscape needed another self-described "psychosexual" horror series. And honestly for this sometimes weak-stomached viewer, two horror series have sometimes been two too many, with the current shows erring too much and too often on the side of exploitation for me to enjoy them regularly. To its credit, Penny Dreadful  for all its gothic pedigree and explicitness regarding blood and sex  has succeeded in telling a story which is both creepy and entertaining. Sensationalist without being lurid, literary without being self-conscious, Penny Dreadful is a blast.