No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Last night the pilot for the new HBO series, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” premiered. It looked like a fun, charming show, so we checked it out.

The series (based on a series of books) is about Precious Ramotswe, the first (and only) female private detective in Botswana. She’s a smart, charming woman with a great eye for detail and a consuming desire to help her fellow Batswana. She’s been through some pretty devastating personal tragedies, but pulled through them all with her pride and dignity intact.

In some ways, it’s pretty standard private detective stories – in the pilot, her cases include searching for a missing child, spying on a husband, and a fraud plot.ladies-detective

But there are a couple of differences that make the show a lot of fun to watch. First is Precious herself. She’s the polar opposite of the standard-issue hardboiled dick you usually see in mystery stories. She’s not going to be beating information out of informants. She’s polite and compassionate. Warm and empathetic. On top of that, she’s new to the detective game. She’s learned most of what she knows from a book. There are consequences of this – she makes a critical mistake on one of the cases and it blows up in her face.

The other big difference is the setting. Botswana isn’t some steel canyon of grungy high rises punctuated with elevated trains and smog. It’s a rural society. Technology is limited. But at the same time, Botswana is a prosperous place, and there’s definitely a feel that the standard of life isn’t bad. When someone says they’re happy, you can believe it. You don’t automatically assume the authorities are corrupt or potential war criminals.

The show has a lot of humor, but they don’t shy away from the harsh realities of Africa. There are several references to the AIDS epidemic scattered throughout the show, and you know the bad guys are really bad guys. Their mobsters don’t bust your kneecaps, they kidnap your kid and use his fingers for spell components.

So I definitely recommend the show. If you’ve got HBO, I’m sure they’ll give you plenty of chances to catch up before the second episode airs on Sunday.