Darby and Joan: Series 1
R0 - United Kingdom - Acorn Media
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (5th March 2024).
The Show

Six months after her husband Ian (End Play's John Waters) who was supposed to be on business in Spain was found dead in the Queensland outback, retired British nurse Joan Kirkhope (The Coca Cola Kid's Greta Scacchi) decides to drive a caravan across the country trying to retrace his steps with the barest of leads against the advice of her daughter Rebecca (100 Bloody Acres' Anna McGahan). Satellite navigation takes her off-course and right in the path of a truck driven by retired Detective Sergeant Jack Darby (F/X's Bryan Brown) and his dog Diesel. Joan gives the pair a lift to find a garage but takes a detour to the idyllic Rawson Ridge which her husband had visited at some point in the past. There, the pair discovers the former flower children owners at each other's throats over the sale of the property; and Jack starts to become suspicious of Joan's motives in wanting to stay when she starts asking the members questions about her "friend" Ian. When the group's ringleader (The Phantom's Robert Coleby) turns up dead of an apparent accidental drowning, Joan and Jack find that the killer may be using the group's insular nature and desire to return the victim to nature to their advantage.

Further cases include:
- Jack being contacted by estranged banana farmer friend Declan (The Chain Reaction's Steve Bisley) who survived a brutal attack but whose unlicensed rifles have been stolen. Although Declan suspects one of the seasonal pickers with whom he has been a labor dispute, and Jack looks into his feud with the rival Horrigan clan, Joan takes a closer look at Declan's wife Felicity (Jungle's Angie Milliken) and son Tanner (Parker Little) and the damage wrought by the tragic death of Declan's elder son in a car crash;
- after discovering that Ian's secret life may have involved criminal conduct, Joan and Jack camp out at a trailer park beset by a series of mobile home thefts. Jack is not particularly interested in the shifty behavior of the current residents or the park manager until Joan's caravan is stolen with her sleeping inside of it;
- after making a startling discovery in a storage locker registered to Joan's husband, Jack takes her to the beach for her first Australian Christmas. Jack goads Joan into trying scuba diving, and their pair end up as witnesses to an apparent decompression accident involving newlywed Cassidy (Elvis' Elizabeth Cullen). With Cassidy's sister (Upgrade's Emily Havea) pointing the finger at brother-in-law Brad (The Possessed's Lincoln Lewis) who needs a payout for his multiple failed business ventures, Joan and Jack must determine if Cassidy was actually the intended victim;
- breaking down on the way to give a statement to Jack's Detective Sergeant daughter Liz (All Saints' Jolene Anderson) who has reopened a cold case involving Ian, Joan's caravan breaks down and the two volunteer themselves for guest service at a local inn's New Year's Eve dinner where they become entangled in a family feud, smuggling, and an arson attempt;
- when Jack is called in by competitive surfing coach Riley (Spartacus' Todd Lasance) who believes his sister Elyse (Winchester's Emily Wiseman) has been set up for sports-doping, he must face their mother Rosemary (Rogue's Heather Mitchell) who he left at the alter, and Joan must face some uncomfortable revelations about Jack's past involving two-and-a-half marriages;
- when Rebecca turns up to assess the strange friendship between her mother and Jack while staying at a nature reserve, Joan must finally reveal to her what she has learned about Ian's double-life (including a murder accusation). When a young autistic boy goes missing, Jack, Joan, and her daughter join in the search but also reflect on their own relationships as they maneuver the fraught blended family dynamic of the missing boy;
- the case of Ian Kirkhope comes to a close as Jack and Joan attempt to discover the relationship between a park ranger (A Cry in the Dark's Caroline Gillmer) withholding information about the case, a sky-diving instructor (True Detective's Christopher James Baker) who was one of the last calls on Ian's phone, and what seemed like the possible fourth Mrs. Jack Darby (The Getting of Wisdom's Kerry Armstrong) when she turns up and runs Jack down with her car.

Their first impromptu investigation demonstrates Joan's and Jack's contrasts and how they ultimately complement each other. Jack is a cynic who assumes the worst but his career-honed gut is quite intuitive. Joan may be optimistic and her empathetic nature in not wanting people she likes to be guilty of a crime might interfere with her judgment; however, in "playing detective" she is more observant of physical evidence. While Joan and Jack do stumble into fraught scenarios with new characters each week in the midst of tracing her late husband's movements, this is not a murder-of-the-week procedural and in more than a few cases their intervention in the business of others either reveals that an apparent crime was not actually a crime (or not intended as such), or exposing the culprit in one incident prevents a situation that could escalate into manslaughter or cold-blooded murder. Scacchi and Brown have a nice chemistry, and the series achieves a nice balance of light humor, suspense, and some moving moments of high emotion that prevent cases that do not featuring murder or lots of action from seeming like filler. While in some cases, the series-wide story arc dogging the protagonist is treated like a necessity beyond the initial set-up and treated as such in an uninteresting manner; the mystery of Ian Kirkhope remains compelling in both the form of vague episode-bookending flashbacks and Scacchi's portrayal of a wife attempting to hold onto something of the man she thought she knew even as she finds out other aspects of his life were a lie. The sinister introduction in the final episode of one of Jack's former colleagues (who else but Wolf Creek's John Jarratt) suggests that a second series will focus on the suspicious circumstances surrounding Jack leaving the force and the frosty reception he has received from some of his colleagues throughout the first series; however, a second series has not as yet been announced.
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Video

Bursting with stunning bright and colorful Australian scenery, Darby and Joan: Series 1 looks superficially good in Acorn's anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen DVDs eight episodes have been split over two dual-layer DVDs although the warm bias of the sun-burnt grading may have as much or more effect on fine detail than the compression. As nice as the series looks, it may be to niche for Acorn to give the Blu-ray treatment so streaming services are currently the only way to see the show in high-definition and it remains to be seen how the image compares given streaming compression and bitrates.
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Audio

The sole audio track is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track that gets most of its sonic workout during the opening and end credits with the uncredited vocalist hitting some ear-splitting high notes and a few action-oriented sequences throughout including the caravan theft and Joan's resourceful use of a flare pistol. Dialogue is always cleanly-recorded while busier atmospheric effects are often reserved for sequences intended to show off the setting. Optional English HoH subtitles are included for both the series and the extras.
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Extras

The sole extra is a behind the scenes (3:25) segment in which Brown and Scacchi discuss their characters while Australian writer and executive producer David Hannam (The Doctor Blake Mysteries) and Acorn executive producer Catherine Mackin (The Madame Blanc Mysteries) discuss the show as a love letter to the Queensland locations.
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Overall

Darby and Joan is one of the better Acorn attempts to replicate the classic "cozy" mystery formula thanks to the charisma and chemistry of leads Bryan Brown and Greta Scacchi.

 


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