Republic of Doyle: Season 1 DVD Review: Conventional Mysteries, Unconventional Setting

Every so often a product crosses our desks that appears to be so unique it demands a closer look. This one has a simple but immediately captivating premise: father and son private investigators in Newfoundland. Anybody out there watch much TV from Newfoundland? Me either! Although it took four years for the first season to wash up on U.S. shores, this CBC series makes good use of its beautiful location and delivers some genuinely entertaining and lighthearted crime investigations. The show is more concerned with the evolving relationships of its principal characters than the crime of the week, making for a series that often ends up being more an amusing family drama than a head-scratching whodunit.

Jake Doyle (Allan Hawco) is an immature 30-something man-child who has moved back in with his ex-cop father in the wake of his divorce. He wears a leather jacket, constant stubble, and drives a muscle car, as if to keep adulthood at permanent arm’s length. He’s still working through unresolved feelings with his ex-wife, but also free to pursue any attractive lass who crosses his path, such as serious and career-minded local constable Leslie Bennett (Krystin Pellerin). That PI-cop relationship dynamic alone immediately brought to mind USA Network’s dearly departed series Psych, and Doyle furthers the comparison with a persistently amusing smart-aleck approach to crime solving that keeps the cases carefree. In the bonus features included in this package, the producers go even further back, citing ‘70s series The Rockford Files and Streets of San Francisco as touchstones for their characters’ banter-filled approach to criminal investigations.

Jake’s dad isn’t as much an equal partner as an advisor, largely fading to the background as the season progresses. He has other family issues to deal with aside from Jake, including a new wife with a mysterious past, a teenage niece living with them, and a prodigal son. All of those characters get their own subplots, further shifting the emphasis from investigations to family dynamics. As for Jake, he somehow finds himself in situations that result in his face being used as a punching bag in many episodes, a hapless but ever-optimistic rogue. There’s not much mystery to his investigations, but the action-filled process to crack the cases is consistently engaging.

Now about that Newfoundland setting: turns out the locals have their own version of English that frequently incorporates the accent of Scottish and Irish settlers, making for a bit of a bewildering experience when reminding yourself you’re watching a North American series. The principal city of St. John looks similar to any other midsize Northeastern cities, although the buildings are more colorfully painted and the pubs more distinctly British. The harbor area recalls England’s Cornwall area, as do the craggy hillsides surrounding it. While the location isn’t as essential to the series as it is in say Doc Martin, there’s enough that sets it apart from what we’re accustomed to seeing in U.S. and Canada that it’s a treat to explore the little-known area, adding a nice travelogue aspect to the show.

Bonus features are a handful of brief featurettes about the production of the first season, including closer looks at Newfoundland, the cast, and the creative process.

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Steve Geise

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