Watching Stephen Fry always promises to be a witty and urbane experience. For three seasons, Fry headlined in Kingdom, a cozy family drama about a small town lawyer named Peter Kingdom (Fry) who deals with the eccentrics of his tiny town in Norfolk, England. Tying together the episodes is also a mystery regarding an estranged brother who has some dark secrets that may imperil Peter’s career. He’s supported by a young solicitor, Lyle Anderson (Karl Davies), who bristles at being continuously outshone by Peter, but is still devoted to his job and the law. Peter and Lyle are also helped by the impeccably competent and loyal Gloria Millington (Celia Imrie), who guards Peter with the ferocity of a lioness. To complicate his life, Peter must also contend with his sister, Beatrice (Hermoine Norris), a volatile, promiscuous woman who is on the mend from a stint in rehab. Like many family dramas – especially shows with a worldly character living in quaintness – there’s a fuzzy, warm feeling that approaches twee-ness, but eschews gooeyness, thanks to the great writing and the fantastic cast.
When it originally aired, Kingdom ran on Sunday nights – and that makes sense, because Sunday nights seem to be the retirement home of television viewing (it’s not a coincidence that shows like Touched by an Angel or Murder, She Wrote were Sunday night staples). And Kingdom seems patented for older audiences, but just edgy enough to not be condescending. Some of the episodes, while not deeply philosophical, do bring up some interesting questions: in one, an Iraq war veteren is suing the British government for unfair compensation for his injuries; in another episode, a young Estonian woman is mired in issues of illegal immigration and labor exploitation; and in one particularly sad episode, a librarian tries to sue a college for the papers of her dead female lover. These are controversial issues, and they all are comfortably liberal, without being too confrontational – a little surprising because Fry is never shy in angering people with his social or political views, but in this show, softball liberal points are scored.
As with all British shows, each series of Kingdom is short – six episode per series. And there’s a mystery that involves Peter’s ne’er do well brother, Simon (Dominic Mafham). The intrigue acts as a backdrop for most of the first two seasons, before being neatly resolved in time for season 3. Unfortunately, the third season ends on a cliffhanger that remains unresolved because ITV decided to cancel the series, due to high costs. A shame because once viewers get involved in these characters, it seems unfair that they don’t get a proper wrap up.