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The Long Running Italian Detective TV Series Entertains

“Commissario Montalbano” is an Italian detective television series based on the novels by Andrea Camilleri. RAI has produced the show since 1999 with a ninth season in 2012 bringing the episode total to 22. “Inspector Montalbano” has been showing on the BBC in Britain and MHz Network in the United States.

Luca Zingaretti stars as Montalbano who solves crimes in the fictional city of Vigata on the coast of Sicily. The series is shot on location in Ragusa and other Sicilian locations. The shaved bald detective lives in a villa on the beach and religiously swims every morning. In fact, he once encountered a floating corpse. Montalbano is quite the ladies man and has girlfriends but lives alone. He is not really married to the job. There is a solitary unlucky in love essence to the character and perhaps even a loneliness to him.

The series presents the expected crime of the week which is usually murder which Montalbano solves with solid police work and intelligence. He is neither Colombo nor “Law & Order” methodical. It is surprising that only a modest number of crimes involve the Mafia considering this is Sicily. Passion, jealousy, betrayal, politics and the mob all play roles in the course of the series.

All the familiar aspects of a television crime series are evident. There is the obligatory meeting and banter with the coroner. Montalbano’s right hand man is Mimi (Cesare Bocci) whose love life including marriage and infidelities receive occasional play. Fazio (Peppino Mazzotta) is the other regular detective. Comic relief is provided by uniformed officer Catarella played in overbearing manner buy Angelo Russo. Every episode allows plenty of moments for Russo to perform his fumbling and bumbling shtick. The character is annoying and simply does not fit in a crime show and the major detriment to “Inspector Montalbano.”

Production values are excellent thanks to the on location filming. The show is almost like a travelogue for providing marvelous images of Sicily. The opening credits feature sweeping aerial footage of Sicily from the Mediterranean to the city and hills. The buildings ate tight knit in close proximity and white either from plaster or from being constructed from the same local materials. There is not a modern building in sight and the show benefits greatly from the old world charm of vintage structures. Computers exist in police headquarters but the interiors always seem to be from another era.

Viewers will be struck by how quintessentially Italian “Inspector Montalbano” is. Even stereotypical. Dialogue is delivered rapid fire with flying hand gestures. At one point, Montalbano actually slaps his forehead and cries “Mamma Mia!” Italians love their food and so does Montalbano. He always dines at the same restaurant.

Action is limited, gun play nearly non-existent and there is much talk. A lot of talk. Very Italian! The crime plots are hit and miss in terms of being interesting. Zingaretti is the strength of the series with his solid portrayal. A likable quality exists in “Inspector Montalbano” making the show worthwhile reading subtitles.