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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

'Kingdom' CS: Labor Day Tribute to Defender of Working Men (and Women)

The complete three series (my people call them seasons) of the 2007-2009 British dramedy "Kingdom" is a perfect subject for a Labor Day weekend review because it tells the always charming and often provocative stories of a country solicitor (my people call them lawyers or much more nasty names) with the big-city smarts needed to obtain justice for the highly quirky working men and women of charming seaside town Market Shipborough.

Fans of British dramedy can consider "Kingdom" a variation of "Doc Martin" with a congenial compassionate legal eagle filling the shoes of a grumpy misanthrophic doctor.

Comic genius Stephen Fry, who has mastered the art of wry humor, plays titular character Peter Kingdom. Fry work in "Kingdom" is less over-the-top then his award-worthy performance in the British made-for-telly comedy film "Stalag Luft," which Unreal TV recently provided a rave review, but is perfect for his character.

Doing justice (pun intended) to "Kingdom" in a review is comparable to the challenge of conveying the incredible awesomeness of "Stalag" without spoiling the twists that make it so great. Fully describing the wonderfully eccentric events and characters in the "Kingdom" universe would require channeling a toddler dashing about a petting zoo after consuming three bowls of sugar-laden cereal.

The below video, courtesy of YouTube, of "Kingdom's" greatest hits does an awesome job conveying the program's heart and humor (not to mention great dramatic moments. It may replace "Sparta the Mean Kitty" and "mad cat Burger and Fries" as personal favorites.

Kingdom is a highly principled legal representative who only takes on cases with valid claims; Kingdom also will not bend or break the law on a client's behalf but will strictly interpret it in a manner that obtains justice for them and everyone else whom the legal dispute affects.

Kingdom's staff consists of his highly efficient and just as compassionate assistant/confidante Gloria Millington, whose real-life offspring plays her son, and adorkably awkward and still-learning trainee solicitor man-boy Lyle Anderson. Millie the adorable small dog rounds out this group.

Kingdom's emotionally unstable and toxically impulsive sister Beatrice further shakes things up, and the apparent suicide of Kingdom's brother and former law partner drives much of the action.

Terrifically wise and kind elderly Aunt Auriel, played by highly talented and prolific British actress Phyllida Law, is Peter's only normal relative. A scene in which she and the other seniors in her retirement community stage Shakespeare's "The Tempest" is one of the most funny during "Kingdom's" run.

Despite the great characters and the awesome actors who portray them, Lyle is one of the more interesting members of the crew and gets many of the best moments. Watching his strong but genuine reactions to the good and the bad that are the facts of his life make for classic television; it is also great watching him evolve into an attorney who reflects the skills and values of his mentor/employer.

Lyle's escapades include a hilarious response to going off course while scuba diving, experiencing hilarious mishaps while learning the ancient sport of dyke (my people call them drainage ditches) jumping, and experience torture at the hands of a sadistic construction crew.

A scene in which Lyle appears in full make-up, a blonde wig, and a pink princess dress and another episode in which the audience catching a glimpse of short curlies in a full frontal scene shows that Lyle portrayor Karl Davies is very willing to go the extra mile even when his role becomes a drag or requires going the full monty. I would be more than willing to travel across the pond to enjoy a tepid pint of watery ale at "Kingdom's" The Startled Duck pub with this young actor who devotes himself so fully to his roles.

"Kingdom" episodes are reminiscent of HBO's "Six Feet Under" and "Showtime's "Dead Like Me" in that they typically begin with an odd event that brings the client or clients to the firm of "Kingdom and Kingdom." These include a brawl at a retirement home, US Air Force jets buzzing the town's homes, nudists frolicking on a local beach, and a battle between druids and golfers.

The plethora of legal issues that the incidents described above and other events raise include several stories about efforts to displace individuals and groups from their homes, discovering how a recently deceased woman disposed of a small fortune, the right of a university to discriminate against an applicant based on her family's economic status, and the impact (if any) of the right of a cross-dresser to a divorce.

Perpetual client Sidney Snell provides both regular income and frustration regarding petty but valid claims against the municipal government in "Kingdom's" first series; these include using ownership of a small square of land to block a large project that requires that real estate and relying on a claim of an established custom of grazing sheep on other land to oppose exploring for natural gas on that parcel.

An episode in which the local government clearly and repeatedly torments Snell in return for his lawsuits is one of the funniest storylines in all three series.

"Kingdom's" final episode includes a great homage to the pilot episode; it also wraps up all ongoing stories well but creates a cliffhanger that makes fans want to have Kingdom represent us in a suit to require airing a Christmas special that resolves that plot.

The final verdict regarding "Kingdom" is that is demonstrates that legal dramas can be compelling and thought provoking while remaining understated and that good humor does not require harsh insults or strong sexual content with the exception of an occasional flash of pubic hair.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Kingdom" is welcome to email me. Please also feel free to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.