TV Review: Zen: Vendetta
Preposterous plot, damp-squib ending and yet oddly likable – that's the art of Zen
The Guardian, 3 January 2011
If Zen: Vendetta (BBC1, Sunday) was your introduction to Michael Dibdin's Italian detective Aurelio Zen (it was mine), you might have started off thinking (as I did): "Why is he called Zen? Is he meant to be philosophical? Or meditative, or something?" Thankfully, the following exchange put me out of my misery early on:
"Funny name," said one character. "It's Venetian," said another. Later on, someone said it again, in case you forgot.
Rufus Sewell stars as Zen, looking very Italian, but sounding exactly like Rufus Sewell, only hoarser. Zen is separated from his wife, pushing 40 and living with his mother. As a cop in a corrupt system, Zen possesses "an unfortunate reputation for honesty". We knew this straight away because, when he tried to pay for his espresso, the barista said: "Come on, Aurelio, you know it's always on the house." But Zen paid anyway. Do they go through this routine every morning?
There was a lot going on; maybe a little too much. Some ex-con called Tito Spadola was angry about being imprisoned for a murder he didn't commit, although his sense of righteous indignation was slightly compromised by the fact that he'd just killed the judge and chief witness in the case and was now gunning for Zen. That's Italy, I guess: morally complicated.
Meanwhile, Zen was charged with reinvestigating a sloppy but ultimately successful murder investigation, wherein an industrialist was killed with his own shotgun in a heavily fortified country retreat – a locked-door mystery, I believe it's called. The slimy government minister and Zen's direct superior were both demanding different outcomes, and Zen's interest in the unvarnished truth could only get him into trouble.
The story quickly became preposterous, and the ending, for a murder mystery, was curiously flat and inconsequential. The ride was enjoyable enough – atmospheric in a murky, grey-green sort of way, with a pleasing, restrained chemistry between Sewell and his love interest, the (actually Italian) Caterina Murino. So far I like Zen, or at least the idea of him – honest but perhaps not incorruptible; hard-nosed, if slightly worried about messing up his shoes – but I don't like having my suspension of disbelief stretched to breaking point. I've already bought Sewell as a Venetian – go easy on me.
Others, meanwhile, were starting 2011 in front of the telly. On Monday Tim Dowling reviewed the BBC's Zen: Vendetta, starring Rufus Sewell as Italian detective Aurelio Zen. "The story quickly became preposterous and the ending, for a murder mystery, was curiously flat and inconsequential," Tim noted. Still, "the ride was enjoyable enough – atmospheric in a murky, grey-green sort of way, with a pleasing, restrained chemistry between Sewell and his love interest. So far I like Zen, or at least the idea of him – honest but perhaps not incorruptible; hard-nosed, if slightly worried about messing up his shoes."