DVD Review: ‘Recipes For Love And Murder’ Season 1

by Rachel Bellwoar

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Few people embody that saying more than Recipes for Love and Murder’s Tannie Maria (Maria Doyle Kennedy) — except you can be sure that it would be the most complicated lemonade recipe ever and include ingredients that only an experienced chef would know how to find in a grocery store.

Cooking means everything to Maria, which is why she’s the writer of a recipe column for The Karoo Gazette. When her boss, Hattie (Jennifer Steyn), has to deliver the news that they won’t be running the column anymore, though, Maria decides to try her hand at writing advice instead. That her answer to every problem is a recipe doesn’t seem to bother anyone because the column is a success. But when a local woman is murdered, she recognizes the victim (Tinarie van Wyk Loots) as the writer of the first letter she responded to and decides to go to the police. Unsatisfied with their handling of the case, it doesn’t take long for Maria and Jessie (Kylie Fisher) – the Karoo Gazette’s sole other writer and investigative journalist – to take a crack at it themselves.

Murder, She Wrote, while set in a small town, still had Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) solving murders every week (not that they all took place in Cabot Cove). Recipes for Love and Murder, meanwhile, stays true to the population of its fictional Eden, South Africa and trades a murder-of-the-week structure for an ongoing investigation that allows the colorful characters of Eden to flourish.

There is a letter-of-the-week, as the series continues to have Maria respond to local readers with advice. These are cleverly filmed, in that instead of showing Maria reading the letters and using voiceover (which wouldn’t be very visually stimulating on a regular basis), viewers are allowed to see who the writers are (whereas for Maria they remain anonymous) as they read their letters aloud. They’re almost treated like monologues, with the writers addressing the camera directly (think Fleabag). No one is reading off a piece of paper.

All of the characters are well-developed (to use another Acorn show for comparison, the vibe is similar to Doc Martin). Hattie is a character I feel like I’ve never seen on TV before. Usually the boss (or in this case, editor-in-chief) is a minor presence who only appears to give pep talks or be a thorn in their reporters’ sides. Shows never focus on the actual work they do because it tends to be dry or discouraging – the business side of journalism, which depends on advertisers, versus the creative side. That doesn’t make the work less essential, though, and Hattie is anything but dry.

Jessie’s storylines also get better and better as the season goes on. While introduced as a character who wants to do everything and overextends herself (initially she wants to write the advice column, too, but concedes to Maria), she begins to question how she (as a Black journalist) and the paper can better serve Eden’s Black community and how to find the right work-life balance.

As for Maria, it’s debatable whether the series needed to create a mystery around Maria’s past, but it doesn’t take up too much focus this season.

The art direction on this series is top notch (Rocco Pool is credited with production design, while Pearl Naude is credited with set decoration). Little details like the stationery and envelopes that are used for the letters, and making the bringing of dishes to work such a regular part of Maria’s routine that she keeps a cushion in her car to buckle the food in (the cushion also points to the fact that Maria doesn’t often have passengers), are all well-executed.

While the “Making Of” featurette on disc three is nothing to get excited about, Acorn’s DVD also comes with a booklet (a rarity these days for TV shows released on DVD) of recipes featured on the show. They’re on the advanced side and, as someone with minimal culinary skills, I don’t see myself attempting any of them, but it’s still a lovely touch that maintains the series’ message about the power of food to sustain and comfort.

Recipes for Love and Murder Season 1 is available on DVD and streaming on Acorn TV.

%d bloggers like this: