Review by C.J. Bunce
Don’t turn around, Der Kommissar’s in town.
Marc Warren is a rock star. Or at least he looks and acts like one. He’s starred and guest-starred in dozens of series and in each one he’s a stand-out, most famously in Doctor Who and Life on Mars, State of Play and Band of Brothers, and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, just to name a few. As a Dutch detective on a stylish crime series created by British network ITV, TV audiences will meet the next Sam Tyler, Aurelio Zen, John Luther, and Jimmy Perez. Warren plays Commissaris Piet van der Valk, Amsterdam’s best detective, on the series Van Der Valk, which saw its first season of three movie-length episodes make its way to the U.S. in 2020. The first episode of the second season is coming to the States in September on PBS Masterpiece. So who is this crime fighter from Amsterdam?
Created by author Nicolas Freeling in a series of novels, Van Der Valk is a complex and refreshingly real hero in contemporary Amsterdam–a place U.S. and UK audiences don’t see a lot of–a man with unpredictable pockets of knowledge and insight of the Dr. Gregory House, M.D. variety. But he’s neither angry or brash. He’s likable, even as he intentionally avoids giving any praise to his squad’s newest recruit. In the first three 90 minute episodes viewers learn that the distance he keeps from everything and everybody is because of a tragedy in his recent past. Like Shetland’s DI Jimmy Perez, Grace’s DSI Roy Grace, and Hinterland’s DCI Thomas Mathias, he is haunted by this past while it empowers him to focus on the crime in front of him.
The series hails from showrunner Chris Murray, who has served as a writer on series from Sea of Souls to Midsomer Murders. The popular novels, written primarily in the 1960s, have been produced into TV series before, in 1972, 1977, and 1991 (you don’t need to have seen these series, which are unrelated to this contemporary version). Location shooting in Murray’s series makes Amsterdam look as stylishly European as Zen’s Italy and exotic like any James Bond movie, incorporating the area’s natural and man-made beauty with scenes in the famous Rijksmuseum, the American Hotel, and even the Tommy Hilfiger corporate headquarters.
The show’s recurring theme is “Only in Amsterdam,” and it’s eye-opening to see the mystery and crime tropes revisited in a British-produced series (fully in English) with British leads taking place outside the UK where police have guns, and prostitution, drugs, and other vice crimes of other nations are completely legal. It also has a large Amsterdam cast and crew.
Warren is the perfect lead for these stories as the police force commissaris, and he’s joined by Maimie McCoy (All Creatures Great and Small) as Inspector Lucienne Hassell; Luke Allen-Gale (Dominion, Captain America: The First Avenger) as the always-eating sergeant, and Elliot Barnes-Worrell (Ready Player One) as the squad’s nerdy new recruit. Emma Fielding (Cranford) is Van der Valk’s boss with a cool police dog named Trojan, and Darrell D’Silva (Wrath of Man) is one of the best (or worst…) pathologists you’ll find in the crime genre (and should be cast as Captain Nemo in some kind of project).
Catch up with the first season of Van Der Valk now on PBS Passport. In the first story, two dead bodies found on the same day could be linked. In the second, religious taboos provide unusual suspects when a woman is murdered. And in the third, the killing of a fashion vlogger is broadcast live–and the season finale is as good as it gets in the genre. The second season (second “series” in UK speak) includes the three 90-minute episodes that already have aired in the UK this past Spring, and will air on PBS beginning September 25, 2022.
You have six weeks to catch up on season 1 of Van Der Valk on PBS Passport. It’s in our league of the best British crime series along with Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Zen, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, Shetland, Grace, Professor T, Hinterland, Glitch, Mystery Road, and the first season of Sherlock.