All Creatures Great and Small
The only quibble I’ve heard from die-hard All Creatures Great and Small fans about this very good series reboot is that “Tristan is not hot enough.” They are very firm on this point. Everyone else fits their notions very well, but Tristan’s lawn must be unkempt, because he needs to go to Rake School.
But why are we even addressing Tristan when he wasn’t in the five-stars, more-sweater-vests-please premiere episode? Because this second entry is ALL about him. And I am grumpy about it, or was for the first 40-ish minutes. Let’s get into it, and maybe I will convince myself otherwise.
James has adapted to Darrowby and the Yorkshire Dales and now spends his time coasting along its Extremely Scenic Roads in his old, endearingly junky car, with a dog leaning on him. When I say this show is prime escapism, it is prime escapism. When I was a teenager, my escapist dream was to marry a blacksmith named Seth and attend annual quilting bees (I married a woman who manages events and knits, which I think we can agree is pretty similar). This is the television-show version of that dream: It connotes simplicity and a disconnect from global crisis. All James has to worry about is whether he has accurately diagnosed that cow (spoiler: He has not).
We are interrupted from the now-steady rhythm in James’s life when Siegfried directs him to pick up Siegfried’s brother Tristan from the station. Tristan is asleep in the baggage car and wearing formalwear, which is how you know he is going to be annoying (or, if you are not me, “impulsive and charming”). He immediately steals the keys to Siegfried’s jaunty green roadster that James was sent to pick him up in and almost hits another car. I wrote in my notes, “Take your giant chin and get outta here.”
The purpose of this episode is to introduce Tristan, have him spar for power with mild-mannered James, and finish with a peace accord between the two. This is the least interesting part of the episode, so I decline to linger on it.
NOW LET’S TALK ABOUT THE DOG.
I am obsessed with Tricki-Woo. Tricki-Woo is a Pekingese lapdog. The American Kennel Club describes the Pekingese as “a compact toy companion of regal bearing and a distinctive rolling gait … as serenely independent as the emperors who owned them.” When I showed a photo of one to my wife, she thought it was a long-haired guinea pig. Tricki-Woo belongs to Mrs. Pumphrey, the richest lady in town, played by the late Diana Rigg. Tricki-Woo is played by a dog named Derek. Derek. I hope Derek is having a great 2021, because he deserves it. Mrs. Pumphrey is the main reason I initially wanted to watch this series. At 82 years old, there she is, wearing burgundy nails and a ’20s banged bob, looking like an aged Miss Fisher of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.
James and Tristan are visiting Mrs. Pumphrey because Tricki-Woo is backed up due to a constant diet of beef Wellington and trifle. She promises to change to a more dog-appropriate diet, but that dog literally sits on a tufted pillow all day next to a tier of macarons. You know it’s gonna be eating trifle the minute James leaves. James and the dog hit it off, though, so he’s invited to Mrs. Pumphrey’s white-tie party along with Siegfried. Tricki-Woo hates Tristan, so Tristan cannot come.
At the party, James is put in charge of Tricki-Woo and then just LEAVES THE DOG ON THE FLOOR? If I had a majestic guinea-pig dog like that, I would be carrying it around constantly. Although, to be fair, James is mainly taking care of cows and pigs, so maybe if Tricki-Woo were a cow, he’d be into it. Oh, also Helen is there, and I still cannot get over how she is basically Hayley Atwell. I’m so sorry, Actress Playing Helen. If Agent Carter weren’t set in the ’40s, the resemblance would not be so striking.
I do very much like Helen and James together, but it’s a slow burn without the sexual tension. More of a Oh, these two are cute; bet they’ll get married someday. James does ask her out at the party, but — jaw-dropping moment of the episode — she’s already seeing someone! And it’s HOT NEVILLE. Can you imagine if you liked someone and finally asked them out and then Neville Longbottom showed up next to them? There’s no etiquette guide for that situation! James leaves due to, as always, a sick cow, but don’t worry, there’s a 99 percent chance Helen will eventually dump Hot Neville and leave him to be consoled by his Mimbulus mimbletonia.
The real romance to watch out for is Siegfried and Mrs. Hall, who we learn this episode is named Audrey, has a ne’er-do-well son she supports financially, and used to lead a group of nurses. Audrey is significantly aged down from the previous adaptation and has some truly excellent banter with Siegfried, which leads to very good chemistry. They have my favorite exchange of the episode, delivered in the tone of I know you very well and like you very much:
“Mrs Hall, have you been moving my things again?”
“By ‘moving’ do you mean tidying away your possessions that you leave scattered without rhyme nor reason?”
I have never hoped so fervently that something blatantly disregards canon, except for when Piper on Orange Is the New Black was supposed to end up with Jason Biggs, and thank God they threw that idea right in the trash.
Items for Pondering
• Will we eventually see a cow death, and will I be emotionally destroyed by it? (Probably and definitely.)
• Is there a better example of supremely understated British flirting in a period piece than one character dressing up to the nines and another saying, “You’ll do”?
• What are Spratt’s Dog Cakes, and should Tricki-Woo be eating them?