Lovejoy - The First Season DVD Review
By David Mumpower
June 5, 2007
Americans are following the career of Ian McShane in reverse order. Despite working on a lot of American 1980s television shows such as Magnum P.I and Miami Vice, the 54-year-old British actor was a virtual unknown in this country before the release of Deadwood. Sure, some die-hard cinephiles probably noticed him in a memorable but small part in the highly underrated 2001 release, Sexy Beast. Some older television watchers might even remember him as the regal young man who swept Diane Ladd off her feet in the 1983 teleplay, The Grace Kelly Story. Those who are unfamiliar with the any of the above or his work as Prince Ranier of Monaco in the Grace Kelly authorized biography (sadly) would have known McShane best for his role as a villain in Agent Cody Banks. Sickening, innit?
Deadwood changed all of that. A man who had over 80 movie and television credits prior to that production suddenly became an overnight sensation in the United States. McShane's work as the inscrutable, occasional villainous but eventually redeemed Al Swearengen earned him a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series. Since the first airing of Deadwood in 2004, McShane has become one of the most popular character actors in the industry, earning strong reviews for his work in such divergent titles as We Are Marshall and Scoop. His gravelly, weathered voice has even made him a friend of DreamWorks. He voices Captain Hook in their current $250 million blockbuster, Shrek the Third, and he has already done further voice acting for two of their upcoming releases, Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar 2. McShane also provides the voice of armor-clad bear warrior Ragnar Sturlusson in the most anticipated movie of the 2007 holiday season, His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass. McShane has gone from being a bit player on American television into one of the most accredited actors of our era.
Given all of the recent attention on his career, BBC America has finally provided potential DVD customers with the opportunity to watch McShane in the role which made him a star in his native England. The role as well as the show is entitled Lovejoy. Long time viewers of PBS as well as BBC America know McShane's pet project to be one of the most engaging in television history.
The genesis of Lovejoy is unique in the annals of BBC television. As the actor explains in a brief interview on disc three of the Lovejoy – The First Season box set, a fan gave McShane one of the picaresque Lovejoy novels written by Jonathan Gash. The person had correctly deduced that this well-intended rogue would be the perfect morally complex, tarnished yet heroic character for a thespian of McShane's caliber to portray. McShane was so drawn to the role that getting it made became his top priority. He assembled a staff of producers, writers and actors before even exploring the idea of televising it with the BBC.
Once England's monopolistic network was given the show's bible describing McShane's artistic vision for the adaptation, they agreed to air a ten episode series. In that moment, Lovejoy became the first independent television series in BBC history, making it a model for a large percentage of the broadcast behavior the network airs today. So strange was this type of production at the time that almost five years passed before the BBC agreed to air a second season, something they eventually did while somehow managing to reunite the entirety of the cast from season one - this unique television model for resuscitation from the dead should return a tiny modicum of hope to fans of currently canceled television shows such as Veronica Mars, Jericho and Firefly.