Created by John Christian Plummer
Even by Hallmark Movies & Mysteries standards, the first TV movie/episode of Francesca Quinn, P.I., which the Girl Detective and I watched the other sunday night, was disappointing.
We certainly weren’t expecting anything particularly hard-boiled, noir or even “gritty”—that’s not what Hallmark does. But they have managed to put out some reasonably entertaining mysteries over the years: passable, nicely produced cozies steeped in romance, featuring several exceedingly good-looking people, lead by an attractive female sleuth and her handsome will they/won’t they? love interest, running around some picture-perfect wish-fulfillment small American town (usually filmed in Canada), trying to solve an unpleasant—but not too unpleasant—murder or two. Quaint little businesses and baked goods often feature prominently.
But private detective FRANCESCA “FRANKIE” QUINN’s first episode, presumably a pilot for an intended series of movies, failed on almost every front. Sure, the cast was pretty enough, the town of St. Ben, Minnesota (actually Winnipeg, Manitoba) cute enough, and there were enough romantic entanglements baked right into the plot to meet the Hallmark quota.
But jeez Louise, it was a mess! After all those boxes were checked, there was nothing left. It was just two hours of half-assery.
A sloppy, needlessly complex back story served as a lengthy info-dump prologue, but with enough threads still left dangling to strangle the subsequent tangled plot, with the whole thing half-heartedly wrapped up in a way both the Girl Detective and I saw coming way in the first 30 minutes or so. And the big action-packed finale we’ve been taught to expect in these kind of films, with the killer finally confronted even as one of our sweethearts rushes to rescue to other one? Cut short, apparently to make room for the inevitable concluding smooch’n’clinch.
Plot holes? You got it.
Staggering coincidences? Check.
Clunky dialogue? You betcha.
What? You were expecting Chinatown?
Part of the problem was the casting. Mallory Jansen was just not credible as a former “forensic investigator” for the police turned private detective. Always impeccably (if inappropriately) dressed and made up, she was nobody’s idea of a small town sleuth, and her office in an adorably refurbished red barn didn’t help. Not that private eyes have to be unattractive or dress like slobs or work out of a dump, but her behaviour and demeanour throughout were likewise dubious. Then again, most of the cast were equally adrift, interchangeable (but good-looking) part-time workers passing through on their way to hopefully better things. Only Alicia Johnston as police detective Detective Ella seemed particularly convincing to me. And her role was mostly minor.
But a big part of our growing disappointment was simply the plot itself. When her fiancé, mystery novelist Carl, is murdered, his sister hires Frankie to find the killer. So Frankie must work with studly local detective Wyn, her ex (who she had dumped for Carl a few years previously… of course). Wyn, of course, still carries a flame for her, secrets are revealed and misunderstanding finally cleared up, and and naturally, all roads eventually lead back to why Frankie left the St. Ben Police Department in the first place: she was the one who sent a serial killer to prison—a serial killer who just happened to the second wife of Frankie’s father, Jim, who just happened to be the then Chief of Police. Talk about evil stepmothers.
Along the way, there’s a startling lack of knowledge displayed about detective work, forensics and even publishing (Is a non-blurb really a motive for murder? Do recently out-of-print books automatically go for $1500 dollars or more?).
The Girl Detective and I got a chuckle out of that, as well.
About the most interesting part was the plugs for next week’s “world premiere” of Nikki & Nora: Sister Sleuths, apparently a light-hearted romp about two fraternal twins who inherit a detective agency. We’ll see…
- FRANCESCA QUINN, P.I.
(2022, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries)
Premiere: September 25, 2022
Written by John Christian Plummer
Directed by Anthony C. Metchie
Starring Mallory Jansen as FRANKIE QUINN
and Dylan Bruce as Wyn
Also starring Laurel Fife, Paul Essiembre, Stephen Irom Gatphoh, Amy Groening, Diane Isfeld, Alicia Johnston, Samantha Kendrick, Derek Kun, Robert Nahum, Angela Narth, Chelsea Rankin, Richard Patrick Tolton II
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.