Donna Detective: Season 1 DVD Review: Ahhh, Roma...

It may seem impossible to American viewers to take Lisa seriously when watching her switch gears so quickly but that is exactly the show's charm.
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Donna Detective is one of the latest offerings from MHz Networks, which releases international television shows on DVD. Originally aired in 2007, Donna Detective: Season 1 is a three-disc set of six feature-length episodes, which should appeal to American audiences. Each movie is in Italian, with English subtitles. The widescreen episodes have a total running time of 608 minutes. There are no extras on the discs.

A twist on a typical detective procedural, Donna Detective features cop Lisa Milani (Lucrezia Lante Della Rovere) in the title role. Once a top detective in Rome, Lisa requested a desk job so that she could spend more time with her family: husband Michele (Kaspar Capparoni), teenage daughter Ludo (short for Ludovica, played by Sara Santostasi), and younger sons Checco (Carlo Daniele), and Giacomo (Luca Lo Pinto). But a puzzling case causes Rome's Police Chief Inspector Sergio Lorenzi (Stefano Masciarelli) to persuade Lisa to bring her special skills to aid him and his squad. Soon Lisa is not only working long hours to solve the crimes taking place in Rome's subway system, but is put in charge of Lorenzi's entire investigative squad.

Although some of situations in Donna Detective are far from fresh - the new boss who must prove herself, perceptions of women in the work force, how hard it is to juggle career and family - it is still fascinating and most importantly, entertaining, to watch Lisa face each obstacle at home and at work. Maybe because the show originated in Italy, there is also a soap opera aspect to some of the "crimes of passion" that Lisa and her squad are up against, but the episodes are far from boring. As the series progresses, each crime that Lisa and her team investigate also sheds light on their characters and what is happening in their lives. There is also an ongoing series story arc involving Lisa's husband Michele, who has been accused of murdering a female colleague, which has a major impact on their marriage, and could even threaten Lisa's career, as she tries to clear her husband.

The focus of the series is squarely on Lisa, and Lante Della Rovere is a very appealing protagonist. But viewers will come to know and like her family and coworkers as well, including college friend and now lawyer Chiara Valli (Helene Nardini), who has agreed to represent Michele, and handsome detective Nanni Fortuna (Flavio Montrucchio), whose appreciation of his new boss Lisa is obvious to (almost) everyone. It is also funny to note that Lisa, who dresses mainly in jeans and sweaters is considered almost frumpy - these Italians certainly solve (and commit) crimes in style, compared to their American television counterparts.

The six episodes in Series One follow Lisa's growing bond with her squad and her husband Michele's case, which at times looks hopeless. In the first episode, "Quale amore (What Love?)," Lisa becomes the head of the detective squad in Rome, and takes over the investigation of the series of attacks on women in the subway. "L'abbandono (The Abandonment)" finds Lisa's husband Michele accused of murdering colleague and fellow doctor Giulia. By the third episode, "Tradimenti (Betrayal)," it is clear that Michele and Giulia were more than just colleagues, which is echoed in the case Lisa is currently investigating, of a philandering psychiatrist, whose wife was found with blood on her clothes but no memory of her husband or the crime. With her husband in jail and their house in Tivoli too expensive (and too far from work) to maintain on her own, Lisa accepts an invitation from her artist sister Manuela (Manuela Maletta) to move herself and her three kids into her large apartment in Rome, which centers the series and the family in the beautiful city.

In "Colpevole o innocente (Guilty or Innocent)," Lisa sends Nanni undercover to investigate the death of a kick boxer, while the case causes her other officer Grazia (Anna Ammirati) to recall some unpleasant memories from from her past. The fifth episode, "Errore umano (Human Error)" centers around the at-first inexplicable murder of a beloved nun. Lisa also learns a bit more about Nanni - and how he feels about her. In the first series' final episode, "Il ritorno (The Return)," old crimes have long shadows, both in Lisa's current case of the death of a young woman, and also in a medical malpractice case that Giulia was investigating before she was murdered. This may be her last chance to try and find some evidence to free Michele before he is sent to trial and found guilty of murder.

It may seem impossible to American viewers to take Lisa seriously when watching her switch gears so quickly - to whipping up a frittata for her hungry family when she returns home from a long day of busting perps - but that is exactly the charm at the center of Donna Detective. It is refreshing to watch a cop show that is as interested in its characters and their motivations - as well as what they want to eat and drink - as it is in solving the crime of the week. The great soundtrack by Savio Riccardi and the backdrop of the eternal city of Rome just add to the experience. Donna Detective is good looking, too, with cinematography a step above typical crime dramas.

The show returned for a second series, in 2010, with a longer season of sixteen episodes. Hopefully MHz will have this available soon, too, as Lisa and her friends and family are quite enjoyable to watch.

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