Posted: 05/12/2008




by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

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I don’t know what’s more interesting to watch in the D.N.A. DVD series starring Tom Conti as the retired forensic detective Joe Donovan. The British TV mini-mystery series has Donovan returning to work after a mental breakdown. He’s a workaholic, an esteemed investigator in his field, but his home life is a shambles.

I admit, to watch the series about murder investigation after murder investigation was appealing, and to see every little bit of evidence turned over and over for traces of D.N.A. that would reveal the victim’s murderer, was great stuff. But Donovan, as a whole, is an interesting character.

The first episode shows Donovan returning to work, after recreating himself as a celebrated crime thriller writer. It’s discovered through his family (wife Kate, played by Samantha Bond, and son, Seth, played by Ryan Cartwright) that Donovan is experiencing “missing” periods of time throughout the day.

The series opens with a first murder that has Donovan at the scene, looking at a body, while the wall is smeared by the victim’s blood, bearing Donovan’s name. The scene is much like a similar scenario that caused Donovan’s abrupt departure from the department.

He pours his heart into this case, seemingly having to prove that he still has the “chops” to conduct hours and hours of investigation to bring the murderer to justice, when another victim shows up, obviously killed in the same manner as the first. Given to blackouts, he tries to figure out just what’s going on; his wife’s watch is found at the second victim’s apartment, and he soon discovers that she has had sexual liaisons with both of the dead bodies.

Is this a copycat murder? Is a recently released ex-con trying to frame Donovan? Did Donovan commit the murders during one of his blackouts? There’s so much to sort out, and now the rush is on for Donovan to successfully exclude himself from the list of suspects, while trying to sustain a marriage, as well as a relationship with his son; both assignments that will soon spiral out of control.

But before the episodes are over, I feel sorry for Donovan. Here is the top man, leading a well-accomplished team at the Forensic Investigators Unit. The group leaves no stone unturned in their quest for justice. Donovan even kisses one potential victim that he suspects might be the next in a line of serial murders, in order to run DNA testing on the young woman’s lipstick to see if it matches the lipstick of the previous two victims. If this attractive bar owner is destined to be the next one to die, then Donovan’s eccentric approach will certainly save her from any potential harm. But who will save poor Donovan? He’s catching pure hell at home.

He often finds himself apologizing for his wife’s adultery. His son loves his parents and idolizes his dad and the forensic profession, but he’s torn because of the marital discord. All of this occurring in a condo in Manchester, England, that appears to be furnished by Roche Bobois, Dania or some other upscale furniture designer. In one word: fabulous!

I’m watching the family scenes, all the while thinking if only my furniture looked like that. I guess this speaks to the disconnect in the family; it’s easy to just lose oneself in luxuries, while everything around you is falling apart.

On the other side of the pond, a similar U.S. TV series would be CSI: Crime Scene Investigators or others in the genre.

Many twists are wrought out toward the fifth and last episode; more shocking discoveries; and more awkward situations from which Donovan has to extricate himself.

I enjoyed the series. The meticulous investigations to find the victims’ killers kept my attention, as did the interplay between the characters, which included romantic encounters among Donovan, his son, his wife and other members of the Forensic Investigators Unit.

The entire series, D.N.A., which includes a two-volume set that originally aired in the United Kingdom under the title DoNovAn, is set for DVD release by the Acorn Media Group May 13, 2008.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is a film critic living in Chicago.

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