My mother loves all things PBS and Masterpiece Theater, so when she mentioned a new series she was watching I listened politely, nodded, and didn’t watch it. I’m more of the reading type, but every now and then I enjoy a good television show or movie. Those seem to be few and far between. Downton Abbey is no more, and while waiting for Poldark to return, I tried a couple of American TV shows I used to follow. I believe I’ve outgrown them.
What was that series my mother mentioned? Oh, yes: The Durrells in Corfu. She pronounced the family’s name in such a way as to rhyme with Purell, the hand sanitizer. Turns out it was pronounced more like the word rural if you switched out the R for a D. I requested the Season One from the library and couldn’t wait to be entertained by what Mother described as a charming series set on a Greek island. She made it sound romantic and beautiful.
My husband and I watched the first episode, and while it wasn’t depressing, it wasn’t the delightful whirlwind adventure of picking up and moving to a Greek island that we thought it would be. Widowed mother of four, Louisa Durrell, was at her wits end trying to make ends meet on her widow’s pension. The idea to move to Corfu came from her oldest son, Larry, an estate agent who wants to be a writer but never writes.
Second son, Leslie, decided he’s going to quit school and find a job to help make ends meet. Margot, his sister, announced that she, too, will quit school because she’s not that bright to begin with and school really wasn’t doing her any good. Then there’s Jerry, the youngest son who loved anything to do with the animal kingdom and was rather odd. This family was what one would describe as a hot mess. In fact, by the third episode, husband and I looked at each other and wondered why we were still watching.
The Durrells were downright horrible to each other sometimes, especially Larry who delivered the harshest barbs to his mother and siblings. When they arrived in Corfu from England, they displayed the attitude of foreigners who couldn’t quite let go of their own culture to make the effort to fit in. Throughout the first season, the worst character for this was the boorish Leslie who blathered on at the locals insisting they speak English even though it’s their country. It was rather refreshing to know that Americans aren’t the only ones to do this even though we seem to be the only ones catching flack for it.
Larry finally took up writing, but this meant he wasn’t bringing in any money to help his mother. In fact, none of the three eldest Durrells lifted a finger to help Louisa. Leslie and Margot have clearly abandoned school, but they made no move to gets jobs. I couldn’t feel bad for Louisa because she enabled them to be the slugs they were by constantly coddling them. I turned my attention to weird little Jerry who also wasn’t attending school but provided himself the most amazing hands-on education by exploring the island for wildlife and building a personal zoo.
Still, I couldn’t quite connect with any of the Durrells. It was time to focus on the peripheral characters. I started with Lugaretzia, the Durrell’s housekeeper and cook who mumbled Greek to herself in such a way that even though one had no idea what she said understood that she, too, thought the Durrells were twits. She took a liking to Leslie, who she declared the best son when he decided to learn Greek just so he could communicate with his girlfriend.
Then there was Theo Stephanides, the naturalist who assisted young Jerry in his pursuit of all things animal. One couldn’t help but fall for the soft-spoken man as he guided Jerry through his makeshift education especially when he acted the part of a priest and presided over a bat funeral. He and Jerry dug up the bat later so they could stuff it, but at least Jerry had a solid and intelligent father figure in his life.
Spiros Halikiopoulos was also a major favorite. He was the type of person who believed he knew everything, yet he didn’t come across as arrogant because he actually did know everything. The handsome taxi driver was always getting the Durrells out of scrapes and attempting to teach them how to be more Greek. It was obvious he was sweet on Louisa, but he held back and was most gentlemanly toward her making him all the more desirable.
Another interesting peripheral character was Sven, the accordion-playing Swedish farmer. Of the three men, he was the one Louisa fell for. There’s a spoiler alert with Sven and Louisa’s story, so I’ll leave it up to my followers to either watch the series and/or discover what that was. Sven was odd but likeable, handsome but practical. He was a man of few words, and while he could be easily offended, he also forgave quickly to maintain the friendship.
Leslie Caron made a delightful cameo as the Countess Mavrodaki in the first season, and Jeremy Swift, who portrayed the unpleasant butler, Spratt, in Downtown Abbey, played her manservant, Dennis. But with all these great peripheral characters, what about the Durrells? It was, after all, their show. My husband and I finished watching Season One and not for lack of something better to do. We laughed several times over a couple of lines that were absolutely brilliant. Kudos to the writers.
Still, what was it about the Durrells that kept us coming back? In short, they were so true to real life, and we couldn’t wait to discover how things turned out for them. We were actually quite pleased that the series didn’t end up being a piece of fluff. We agreed that Leslie was our least favorite, that even though Margot was dim her family should probably stop telling her so, Larry was an ass (there’s no other way around it), and Jerry needed a bath in the worst way. Yet when Season Two started last week, we were right there watching the Durrells stumble their way through life and learning the hard lessons.