For those who are big fans of any crime-related shows on American television whose names consist exclusively of, or include, acronyms, it’s probably safe to suggest that you give Pie in the Sky a miss.
Things get trickier after that though, because the mid-90s BBC show is hard to compare to anything, much less any other criminal investigation series. Fans of British television surely want to give it a chance, especially anything that falls in the general category of episodic drama, but you don’t want to look here for your fix of detective programming.
Much as you might like to try to explain the show in simple terms, it’s actually just a show about Henry Crabbe (Richard Griffiths), and though he is a police detective, and it is hard to argue against the idea that “crimes” “happen,” and he “investigates” them, but there the similarity to any police or detective drama ends.
Griffiths, who American audiences likely know best as that bastard uncle from the Harry Potter films, plays an aging police detective who wants nothing more than to retire and open a restaurant. An interesting combination of food snob and down-to-earth bloke, Crabbe wants to open a very small operation where he will provide the finest touches to such delicacies as steak and kidney pie with garlic mash.
Unfortunately for Crabbe, his boss, ACC Freddy Fisher (Malcolm Sinclair), came up through the ranks largely by taking the credit for work other people did, especially Crabbe, and Fisher isn’t quite ready to let go of his best sleuth. Luckily for Fisher, Crabbe’s last case (which we see in the first episode) goes down rather suspiciously, and the investigation could easily much up Crabbe’s good name, and his pension. Of course, Fisher is willing to work at fixing things for Crabbe, as long as Crabbe stays on to sort things when Fisher needs him.
With this odd, not really working, but not really not getting paid situation, Crabbe opens his restaurant Pie in the Sky, and is mostly free to pursue his true passion, as long as he doesn’t mind being called away rather frequently.
Thus, the show splits itself between the running of the restaurant and police investigations, and throughout the five season run, the two frequently cross paths. Crabbe has his hands full running the restaurant, but things are even worse when he has to get a chef he trusts working things, because who knows when he’ll have to duck out.
The progression of the show is almost exclusively based on the clash of worlds, and Crabbe is forever trying to maintain the balance, and always equally concerned about the fresh veg as whatever case he may be forced to work on this week. He’s also equally torn between DS Cambridge, who acts as something like his junior officer, and his wife, Margaret (Maggie Steed), who is overly fixated on the expenses of the restaurant, and whose idea of fine cuisine is prawn cocktail-flavored crisps.
The show never feels anything like a detective series, no matter how deep in a case we find Crabbe, and there is as much time spent playing classical music in the chicken coop as there is tracking down leads. Crabbe is not the kind of detective that pieces together clues which lead to an Aha moment anyway. No, he’s more the sort of chap who figures that if you just keep showing up enough, somehow it all comes together.
It is ultimately a show that is mirrored by Crabbe’s own restaurant, and thus the show is all the more aptly named. It is, in some sense, an “easy” show, possibly in the same overall realm as things like Murder, She Wrote and Matlock, though I despair of the comparison. It’s a steak and kidney pie sort of show, but it’s the best steak and kidney pie you ever ate. Beyond such nonsense as this, the show is too difficult to relate, because there is nothing else that’s really like it. It’s along the lines of someone having an idea that we should, “have a detective show in which we hardly pay any attention to the fact that we’re solving crimes.”
Crabbe won’t go down in the annals as one the best sleuths of his age, like most really good cops, but he is one that the right sort of viewer will fall in love with, as is already obvious… two decades later.
The other slight problem with the show is one that is not at all uncommon among similar British efforts, and that is that we jumble the cast quite a bit. We make it through the first two series with a great waiter and chef, but as things go on waiters, waitresses, and chefs come and go, and that’s a bit hard to swallow with a show that is so centered on the restaurant. The replacements give good turns as well, but you’d have liked to see the same cast.
All in all, this is really a great show, and one that pushes simplicity nearly to the breaking point. It’s just oddly fun, and for those who are already fans, an absolute must own.
The DVD release of the collection is pretty simple insofar as the production value behind the release, but understandably so. Considering the five series release of a show from the 90s that not many people have heard of, it’s actually pretty impressive. There isn’t much for special features, but you do get a interview with Maggie Steed, which fans will surely enjoy. Starting with series three, you at least get a bit more to the onscreen menu system, including episode synopses, but it’s a pretty bare bones affair all around.
Packed with all the right ingredients for an enchanting detective drama, Pie in the Sky: Complete Collection arrives on DVD from Acorn Media on November 1, 2011, featuring all 40 episodes of the popular series. Tony® winner Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter, The History Boys) stars as DI Henry Crabbe—a semi-retired cop who would rather be in the kitchen than collaring criminals. Seen on public television, Pie in the Sky debuted on BBC1 in the U.K. in March 1994 and aired for five series. The value-priced 13-Disc Collector’s Edition includes a special 18 min. bonus interview with star Maggie Steed (Shine on Harvey Moon), production notes, biography of Richard Griffiths, and much more ($119.99, 32 ½ hours plus bonus, www.AcornOnline.com).
The series has featured a plethora of well-known guests stars, including Michael Kitchen (Foyle’s War), Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father), Jane Wymark (Midsomer Murders), Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey), Kelly Reilly (Sherlock Holmes), Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings), Nicola Walker (Touching Evil, MI-5), and Keeley Hawes (Upstairs Downstairs).
Detective Inspector Henry Crabbe has been a policeman for 25 years, but he’s craving a change. Crabbe finally leaves the force and opens his dream restaurant, Pie in the Sky, with his penny-pinching accountant wife (Maggie Steed). He hopes to while away his retirement serving up his favorite dishes, but his old boss (Malcolm Sinclair, Casino Royale) puts his plans on the back burner, keeping Crabbe’s plate full with tricky cases.