The case of the feuding detectives

Masterful 'Mystery!'; Kermit hops back; best chick flick is 'Charms'

It's tough getting that male-female police partnership just right. You've got to have two people who are different from each other in order for the platonic, professional relationship to work.

The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: A Great Deliverance (PBS, Aug. 19, 26, check local listings) leans on the English class system to construct an intense and plausible professional liaison.

Nathaniel Parker is brilliant as Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley, an aristocrat with an Oxford education and a suave, sophisticated manner. His partner is the prickly Sgt. Barbara Havers – working class, guilt-ridden, and contemptuous of all aristocrats. Actress Sharon Small works in layers of anguish and intelligence that triumph over the class-conscious prejudice of her character.

Havers has been assigned to Lynley precisely because their superior officers know they won't like each other. The superiors are hoping they will fail to solve their case. It's a particularly underhanded way to get rid of a pair who do not fit the mold.

The case they must solve is a grisly murder at a Yorkshire farm. A man has been decapitated, and his 16-year-old daughter is found in a state of mute shock.

The locals are hostile, particularly the local constabulary, who also seem to be incompetent. They never solved the murder of a newborn the year before, and Lynley thinks there may be a connection. As he and Havers begin to investigate the baby's death as well as the farmer's, all sorts of unsavory behavior rises to the surface. Every life in this village seems like the makings of a Tennessee Williams tragedy.

After all, the author of the books that the series is based on is actually American. Elizabeth George writes about the English countryside as if she knew it well. But she has the American knack for emotional complication and for hiding the evidence – and the killer – in plain sight. It's all here – police procedure does not undermine character development – and there are a lot of characters to develop.

But best of all is the self-knowledge that comes to Lynley, and especially Havers, as they begin to see why they have been set up to fail. Thinking outside the box is what solves the crime, and thinking outside the box solves the relationship, too. It's a masterful "Mystery!" And the last this summer, alas.

* * *

It was never easy being green. When Kermit was just little more than a tadpole, his tribulations began – and lasting friendships formed. His adolescent comic adventures surface in Kermit's Swamp Years (Starz! Family, Aug. 18, 6:30-8 p.m.), and it's good to see Froggy back.

Kermit was one of several thousand siblings born in a Southern swamp. But Kermie and his two best friends, Goggles and Croaker, dream of leaving the swamp and making their mark in the world. When Kermit's friends are captured by a pet-store owner, and then sold to an unscrupulous science teacher, Kermit must find a way to save them from dissection.

With Kermit's heroic past, it's no wonder that he has hosted an episode of "The Tonight Show," met the Queen of England, appeared on "Nightline," hosted his own TV show, made several movies, and became the darling of millions of children and their parents. He deserves his fame. And this film shows us why.

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One of the best "chick flicks" on TV this summer is Charms For the Easy Life (Showtime, Aug. 18, 8-10 p.m.). But it may also interest men with a good ear for dialogue. Gena Rowlands stars as an alternative healthcare provider in a small Southern town during the Great Depression and World War II. Mimi Rogers plays her romantic daughter who married the wrong man, but produced a wonderful daughter, Margaret, played with undeniable charm by Susan May Pratt.

The older women have not had much luck with men, until a sophisticated lawyer appears to court Sophia (Rogers). At first, Charlie Kate (Rowlands) resists liking her daughter's suitor, but gradually he wins her over, too.

Charlie Kate is used to interfering in people's lives, and one of the most endearing scenes in the film finds her confronting a drunken doctor for his malpractice and then setting him on the road to proper behavior.

Opinionated, sure of herself, and endlessly loving, she may fail at times to be wise, but Charlie Kate never fails to be right. And again, it's the relationships that make the movie.

Told as a memoir by granddaughter Margaret, the story unfolds in an interdependent community that still allows for eccentricity and creativity. Granddaughter and grandmother form a secret alliance, but they always include and cherish Sophia. The three women create a credible intimacy that at first excludes men, and then lovingly welcomes them.

But it's not a sentimental view either of family or of community. There are villains and buffoons among the town folk, but most are decent men and women who only need a little guidance from Charlie Kate. It's one story that reminds us how easily women can undermine each other, and how readily they can support and sustain each other, too.

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