January 13, 2021
Mocked by critics, the tropical-island crime drama has been attracting a large and appreciative audience for a decade. It’s time it was reassessed
Murder mystery: how Death in Paradise quietly became one of TVs biggest hits
Death in Paradise is the Céline Dion of British TV: mocked in adolescence, tolerated in its prime, beloved in its dotage. When the show debuted in 2011, it was annihilated by critics, including at this newspaper. “The TV equivalent of a boring holiday timeshare,” the Guardian noted. “Everyone’s a caricature, their essential qualities semaphored with a brutal simplicity,” the Independent observed. “A macabre advertisement for a tropical juice drink,” quipped the Telegraph.
And yet … it may not feature Ruth Wilson in a felt cloche with a CGI monkey, or the implacable Mark Rylance in a codpiece, but Death in Paradise has been pulling in ratings bigger than flagship BBC dramas on a modest budget, using a cast of C-list actors, week after week, for nine years. The show is licensed to more than 230 territories and is often the best-performing drama on the BBC; its most-watched episode, series six premiere Erupting in Murder, pulled in more than 9 million viewers, while last year’s series averaged 8.14 million weekly viewers, making it the most-watched programme of the day. (By comparison, Wolf Hall pulled in about 3-4 million viewers an episode.)
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