If you’re in the mood for light-hearted mysteries with a captivating cast of characters, the Italian subtitled TV series “Don Matteo: Season 9” may suit your fancy. No television program lasts more than 20 years and more than 260 episodes in ANY country without considerable merit. Iconic actor Terence Hill plays a small-town priest who can’t help but become a murder magnet, constantly involved in solving the crime of the day, usually to save one of his wrongfully accused parishioners. The local cops alternately lean on his detectives and resent him, but it always leads to the right outcome within an hour.
Hill became a world star in the 1970s, thanks in large part to his wonderful comedic Spaghetti Westerns (notably the TRINITY films), among many pairings with Bud Spencer. The latter usually played a burly, grumpy sidekick to Hill’s playful lead in many successful lighthearted adventures, whether set in the Wild West or a variety of contemporary settings. Hill’s charming characters invariably faced life with a knowing smile and sparkling eyes that said he was able to handle anything without taking it too seriously. At that time, his gift for physical comedy was also a big part of the fun.
Hill, 60, who started this series in 2000, eschewed most of the physique for this one, but still had that endearing look of warmth and humor that established him as the kind of priest any faithful hope to find at the pulpit. He’s surrounded by a cast of characters who provide the bulk of the comic relief as he solves a new crime each episode. Many of them have been present from the first season to this ninth of the twelve that have been broadcast abroad to date. Although I was only able to screen four of its 26 episodes, fans can be assured of receiving the kind of stories and level of quality they’ve come to expect from the first eight. Don Matteo moves to a new town, but is still surrounded by many old faces. In these episodes, the balance between Hill’s sleuthing and the mostly comedic antics of the supporting cast leaned more towards the latter than at the start of the series.
Since each episode covers a new crime, there’s no pressure to binge. Quiet tales can be savored at a leisurely pace. Those unfamiliar with this series might find it similar in tone and content to the long-running British series “Father Brown.” Both are brilliant, humble, and shrewd priests in small communities, surrounded by characters who help or hinder their efforts to solve murders and other crimes in a light-hearted, bloodless presentation. The two also travel mainly by bicycle. This English analogue started in 2013 with 100 episodes so far. Both are still producing new shows in their home countries and are available in the US on TV or streaming.
The only downside to the Don Matteo character is that Hill is about eight years older than me, but he still looks like he could ride a horse, strap on a six-gun, and dispatch all the bad guys his way. My enjoyment for what he still brings to the screen comes at the cost of feeling even older than usual. Your mileage may vary.
“Don Matteo: Season 9”, in Italian with English subtitles, airs on MHz Choice from April 5.
RATING: 3 out of 4 stars