And now, for a time warp back to the Big Eighties – 1989, to be precise – as Patrick Malahide portrays Dr. Michael Harrison in the S04E07 episode of the series, “Boon“, titled “In It for the Monet”. It’s a time of big hair, slouch-shouldered jackets, stone-washed denim, bright colours, and caddish, opportunistic art history professors that you probably wouldn’t want teaching your daughters, even if your daughters protest that he’s perfectly lovely… and they probably would. But what does Michael Harrison do that’s so reprehensible? And what’s with the pun in the title?
Boon Takes the Case
The show opens with the eponymous Ken Boon (Michael Elphick), a retired firefighter turned private investigator (amongst many other careers he’ll undertake in the course of the series), getting two cases at once. One I won’t bother much with, because as far as I’m concerned it’s the “B” plot, is discovering the whereabouts of the body of a classic car – a Jaguar, I think. The chassis is owned by one brother, Andrew Barker (Thomas Wheatley), and the body by another, Graham (frequent Malahide co-star Ian McNeice). The other (and far less lucrative) job is a request from the Sheridans (Nick Stringer and Linda Bassett) to discover just what their daughter Isobel (Clare Holman, whom I belatedly recognized as Dr. Laura Hobson on “Lewis” – I seriously didn’t realize who she was at first!) has been doing at university. It seems that Dr. Laura… er, Isobel… an art history student, has gone from being hard up for money to buying new cars and otherwise being flush with cash, and her parents are suspicious that she might be up to no good. Isobel won’t talk to them, so they plead with Boon to take the case and he does. One gathers he’s a softy for underdogs that way.
Art History and “Woman As Object”
Boon takes his friend and business partner, the ever-reliable Harry Crawford (David Daker) with him to reconnoitre Nottingham University in search of Isobel. Some rowers, former friends of Isobel’s, mention that she’s changed lately and helpfully point them in the direction of her lectures, describing Isobel as a “real swot” (or in Canadian parlance, a “keener”). Boon and Harry sneak into Dr. Harrison’s class just as he’s getting to the juicy stuff about the portrayal of women in 18th Century French art. There, in front of a slide of “L’Odalisque Brune” by François Boucher (yes, I Google Image searched that), Harrison (clad in a slouch-shouldered, off-white linen jacket) holds forth about women as “objects” and “passive toys for male desire” (why yes, this is foreshadowing). Then, while discussing “The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (yep, Google Image searched that one, too), depicting a woman being watched by both her older, cuckolded husband and her young lover, Harrison (who isn’t shy in the slightest) describes the young lover as “getting his rocks off” (tee hee). Isobel speaks up to question Harrison’s interpretation, saying that perhaps it’s actually the woman who’s “getting her rocks off”, and that women “achiev[ed] power and influence through the only means possible. Their bodies.” Boon and Harry both look nonplussed since this really isn’t their kind of thing, but Harrison looks pleased. Isobel seems to be his prize pupil. The only reason I mention all this is because it’s an early hint about Isobel’s relationship with Harrison and a bit of foreshadowing. But I do think Inspector Robbie Lewis would be quite shocked!
Rocky and Laura Go Undercover
Thinking that Isobel would be unlikely to confide in a forty-something private detective, Boon assigns his more-or-less assistant, the somewhat gormless Rocky Cassidy (Neil Morrisey) and his vastly more competent secretary, Laura Marsh (Elizabeth Carling), to tail Isobel and report on her activities. Laura can pretty much pass for a student just as she is, but Rocky decides to disguise himself with a pair of Harry Potter-esque glasses to enhance his student image. It never dawns on him that having the name “ROCKY” embossed in big silver-studded letters on the back of his leather biker’s jacket might be a dead giveaway.
Much to my surprise, Rocky and Laura successfully spy on Isobel without her becoming suspicious of the long-haired biker-leather Harry-Potter-glasses “ROCKY” guy and his long-haired brunette companion who’ve been tailing her all day. They follow her and her friend Dominique Taylor (Pippa Haywood, whom neither Fearless Admin nor I recognized right away as Jenny Thorne from “The One Game“; I think we were distracted by her extremely ruffly fuchsia dress) to a hotel. There, Rocky sees Isobel and Dominique emerge from an Italian gentleman’s room with an envelope that’s presumably full of cash or… something. He tells Laura he thinks Isobel’s a “call girl” who’s “on the game”, although Laura refuses to believe it at first.
More to the Relationship Than Meets the Eye
Later that day, Rocky and Laura follow Isobel to a lavish house party complete with free food and drinks, a swimming pool, and other such luxuries I certainly never got to experience as an undergrad. Clearly I was at the wrong university! Dr. Harrison is there, chatting to a new student, when Isobel (wearing a tight black skirt that would surely scandalize Robbie Lewis) comes up behind him and gooses his rear. He betrays no reaction (the man must have a will of iron), but it seems rather clear that there’s a little more to their professor/student relationship than meets the eye. However, Harrison bestows a friendly smile on Laura when she, still carrying her motorcycle helmet (seriously Rocky, get a bike lock for those things!), stands right beside him at the buffet table. Perhaps he’s sizing her up as his next candidate for prize pupil?
Rocky ends up getting waylaid by a cute punker girl and is therefore no help whatsoever, so Laura continues to follow Isobel on her own, trying to look casual. Declining to dance to the Fine Young Cannibals (kind of a shame, I would’ve liked to have seen that), Dr. Harrison seems to thoughtfully eye Laura through a window before throwing a pebble against the glass to attract her attention… but it turns out that it’s really Isobel’s attention he’s after. He casually nods for Isobel to come outside, with an air of familiarity and a small, very confident smirk; when she joins him, he greets her with a kiss (definitely not a platonic one) and they walk off hand in hand. They appear to have a long-established relationship. He then introduces her to the student he was chatting to earlier and leaves her, all under Laura’s watchful gaze. Actually, Laura’s expression throughout the entire thing is so intense that she appears to be jealously stalking the two of them. Seeing Isobel coming downstairs with the student after a suitable interval, Laura retrieves Rocky from the punker girl’s clutches and says she now thinks Isobel is “on the game”, too – and although neither of them says it, it looks as if Dr. Harrison might be her pimp.
A Different Sort of Professor
Rocky reports to Boon while Laura follows Isobel to the library after the party – it seems any time is a good time to write a paper – where they find her asleep on a table the following morning. They also run into Dr. Harrison and Dominique, just on their way back to the university and still in their party clothes at 5:00 am. Dr. Harrison greets Rocky and Laura with a surprisingly cheery “Morning! Rough night?” as he strolls across the quad; he’s not even hungover although he appears to have enjoyed himself a great deal. As a matter of fact, he looks as if he’s perfectly willing to continue partying as he and Dominique engage in some very flirty banter, mutual rear spanking (his female students all seem a wee bit obsessed!), and wrestle briefly over a champagne bottle. He does come across as a very different sort of professor and may I say, Dominique has far better taste in men than Jenny Thorne does. Harrison cryptically tells Dominique to “remind Isobel about the poppies” with a note slipped under her door, which neither Rocky nor Laura can figure out. They do, however, find a waste basket next to Isobel’s door with used syringes in it, which makes her situation look even worse.
However, Boon remains unconvinced since neither Rocky nor Laura have actually seen money change hands, nor can they prove what the syringes were used for. He gets Laura to tail Dominique to the hotel again, this time with a saner head along, belonging to Helen Yeldham (Brigit Forsyth), Harry’s well-to-do business partner. She reminds me a lot of “Lovejoy’s” Lady Jane Felsham. Actually, the entire “Boon” line-up reminded me a lot of “Lovejoy”, but more on that later. Meanwhile, Rocky is to continue to follow Isobel, who apparently still hasn’t caught on that the large guy in the “ROCKY” jacket ends up everywhere she goes. She might be a brilliant grad student but she’s not terribly observant!
A Tryst Between the Shelves
At lunch, Helen and Laura witness the mysterious Italian gentleman, Mr. Alberti, handing over yet another suspicious-looking envelope to Dominique while Rocky, spying on Isobel at the library, witnesses a between-shelves tryst between her and Harrison (much to his horror). Isobel demands to know where Harrison was until six o’clock that morning; “Looking after your interests,” he replies, attempting (and failing) to look innocent. She rejoins that he’s “never looked after anyone’s interests but [his] own” (more foreshadowing!), but he deflects her question, commenting that “the diplomat’s son might put a few pennies in [her] piggybank”. Harrison also seems to have something mysterious going with Mr. Alberti, although he doesn’t go into details. Isobel then declares that Harrison “owes” her, exchanging a large manila envelope for several wads of cash; apparently Nottingham University pays its art history professors shockingly well. Harrison counts it out, seductively murmuring, “Titian… Leonardo… and that’s for the Monet,” before checking left and right and (cad, remember) stuffing the money up Isobel’s crop top. Strangely enough, this doesn’t bother her. Instead, she moves in for a good, old-fashioned, steamy snog and purrs back, “I’m only in it for the Monet,” as Harrison rolls his eyes at her wit. I guess they don’t teach art history students how to make good puns.
Tossing Harrison’s Office
Rocky’s eyes are practically bugging out of his head in horror by this point, and he reports back to Boon. This combined with Helen’s confirmation of Laura’s story is enough to convince Boon that it’s time he stepped in himself, although he still tells Isobel’s parents that they have no proof of anything and it could all be “completely innocent”. He sneaks into Harrison’s office to look for evidence of something, anything, and starts rifling through a filing cabinet. He happens across a document entitled “Woman as Object – Sales to Date” listing scholars from various universities (note to “Boon” prop people: there is no University of Vancouver!) that looks as if it could be important, so he stashes the paper in his jacket. Before he can search further, he’s surprised in the act by Dr. Harrison, who’s a wee bit taken aback and suspicious but otherwise remarkably unperturbed to find someone going through his papers. Perhaps it happens to him all the time.
“Can I help you?” asks Harrison calmly – he really must have a will of iron to control his reactions so well. Upon finding out that Boon’s a private investigator he replies, “I’m not sleeping with anybody’s wife.” No, just a couple of his students, but what an interesting place for his mind to go first! Boon confronts Harrison with the fact that he’s been exchanging envelopes with Isobel for money. Harrison denies nothing and remains calm, even when Boon demands to know what’s inside. Still unperturbed, Harrison keeps his baby-blue gaze on Boon and tells him to look for himself; Boon does, and finds only art history essays. Now he’s very confused and Harrison can’t resist rubbing it in just a bit: “Disappointed? What did you expect, snapshots of Isobel naked on a bear skin rug?” Boon loses his temper (just slightly) and replies that while he doesn’t care what Harrison’s “game” is, he’s being paid by Isobel’s parents to find out where she’s getting her money. Harrison suggests that they talk to Isobel, and Boon agrees, now confused because Harrison’s being cooperative.
Essays for Sale
Unfortunately for Boon, who already detests Harrison by this point, Isobel confirms his story. She’s being paid to write essays which Harrison sells on to other scholars, and the syringes in her waste basket were from allergy injections. Boon questions the ethics of selling essays (as well he should), but Harrison condescendingly derides his knowledge of university life and pooh-poohs the whole thing: “Scholars have always exchanged their work. There’s nothing illegal about it. They’re forced to do it by a ridiculous system which is based upon exams.” Mind you, his point of view might come as a bit of a surprise to any other university professor who’s had to boot someone out of their class for plagiarizing… but I digress. Boon threatens to go to the university authorities, but Harrison – who’s just filched the essays out of Boon’s hands with a “you wouldn’t understand them” – smugly points out that he has no proof. All he has is a “crime without a victim” which is a “dilemma for a man in [his] profession”. Isobel later defends her actions to Boon as “the ones with money subsidiz[ing] the ones with talent” and says she’s only using her abilities to make her own way – she’s not going to end up a “woman as object”, you see.
An Ace Up Boon’s Sleeve
But Boon still has an ace up his leather-fringed sleeve: the paper he stole from Harrison’s office, which turns out to be very important. We see Harrison through his office window, worriedly rifling through papers and obviously not finding what he’s looking for. He spies Boon outside down on the quad and apparently teleports down – seriously, one second he’s in his office, the next he’s outside – to talk to Boon. His change in manner is remarkable; where he was once calm, smiling, and condescending, he’s now slightly panicked, worried, and getting a bit aggressive. “Where is it?” he demands, before accusing Boon of theft. But it’s now Boon’s turn to feign complete ignorance as he recognizes his advantage: “What is it I’m supposed to have stolen?” he asks innocently. Harrison threatens to call the police if Boon doesn’t return the file right away, but Boon is coolly confident. Calling Harrison’s bluff, he offers to leave the file with the university porter (not what Harrison wants) then adds, “You read history of art, Dr. Harrison. I read people. See ya.” before striding away.
A Grand Announcement
Meanwhile, the mysterious Mr. Alberti has turned out to be an official of Florence University in Italy. His dealings are far from nefarious; he’s there to offer both Dominique and Isobel scholarships – obtained, in part, through Harrison’s efforts, so I guess we can’t say he’s all bad. There’s a big shindig at one of the university’s art galleries to make the announcement. Boon, Harry, and Helen are in attendance, as are Dominique, Isobel, and Harrison. Boon’s had a brainwave since talking to Harrison, figuring out that the stolen “Woman as Object” sheet and the cause of Harrison’s unease is actually a sales record. Harrison has been selling Isobel’s essays to international students for £2,000 each, far more than the paltry £50 he was paying her. Boon takes Isobel aside to tell her and while she’s obviously disturbed at Harrison’s swindling, she betrays no immediate reaction, instead asking if she can hang onto the proof for a moment.
Very Public Payback
Harrison comes steaming over to find out what Boon’s up to but Boon keeps a poker face, saying he’s only there to hear what Isobel has to say. “Oh, very little I expect,” replies Harrison, “She’s too ambitious to do anything stupid.” He still looks worried because he doesn’t know what Boon’s told Isobel and he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop, but he begins to relax when it appears he’s going to get away with everything. Isobel accepts her scholarship with a little speech that’s surprisingly laudatory towards Harrison, saying his “close interest” (so that’s what they’re calling it!) in her work has “gone beyond the call of duty” and that “without his support, [she] would never have grasped the subtler implications of woman as object.” Then she adds, “I would like to repay him… and I’m sure there are many others who are grateful for the knowledge he has spread so freely,” all the while bestowing a winsome smile on Harrison designed to melt his suspicions completely. Boon, Helen, and Harry are shocked and amazed at how nice she’s being although if you read between her lines, she’s actually being quite pointed – all that foreshadowing, remember! Full of smug confidence again, Harrison comes over to Isobel with a triumphant smirk and arms spread wide for a hug… when Isobel abruptly slaps him across the face, loudly. SMACK! Well… that might be a little difficult to explain. That’s what you get for messing around with Inspector Lewis’ sweetie!
While Harrison stands there stunned, Isobel asks him how much his career is worth, then says she’ll leave the file with Boon “just in case history repeats itself”. She departs with the day won while Harrison peers furtively around the room, probably already calculating how he’ll explain everything. He’s a wee bit embarrassed but not as much as he could or should be, so he probably thinks the whole thing might be survivable. Ultimately it’s up to us to decide if he manages to salvage his academic career or has to go into “Can you draw Tippy the Turtle?” cartoons for a while. I’m voting for the turtle cartoons, myself.
Patrick Malahide as Dr. Michael Harrison
This was a très Eighties, really fun episode. I enjoyed seeing Patrick Malahide play a cad, even if he was such a reprehensible, situationally amoral one who was willing to use his students to get ahead and… dare I say it… “get his rocks off”. He was fun to watch whether he was being insufferably smug and tormenting Boon, or horribly panicked about getting his file back. You could see his mood change from almost-but-not-quite-sweatingly-worried at the announcement shindig to smugly confident once he thought he was off the hook, then back to embarrassment (with some calculation under the surface, methinks) after Isobel’s slap. You just know he’d find a way to spin it to his advantage.
Mr. Malahide also looked lovely in Eighties fashions. I enjoyed his assortment of drop-shouldered, baggy linen suits, although I noticed he wore something a little more tailored to the scholarship announcement. And he really should have had more than one tie, tsk tsk. But Mr. Malahide brings the smug, over-confidence, and easy charm in spades. I liked how the party scene was shot to get us thinking that Harrison might be making a pass at Laura, casting more doubt on his character, yet actually revealing his relationship with Isobel. And the library scene was quite hot – well, up until the money-stuffing part. Perhaps it’s not quite so difficult to see why Dr. Hobson and Jenny fell for him. It might’ve been those linen suits, too.
I also found this episode really reminded me of “Lovejoy” in several aspects: Boon as the leader with the slightly checkered(?) past, his faithful sidekick Harry Crawford, their posh benefactor Helen Yeldham, and the gormless Rocky all have their “Lovejoy” equivalents. The situation also seemed to be one that was rather Lovejoy-like, with Boon having to figure out how to give Harrison his comeuppance and do a good deed for Isobel’s parents. I’m reliably informed by Fearless Admin that other “Boon” episodes are not nearly so Lovejoy-like, which is rather a shame. But this one was a lot of fun to watch. I wonder if Dr. Harrison ever got back into academia again?
You can acquire the “Boon” series sets as Region 2 DVDs from Amazon.com (playable on multi-region or region-free players) or scroll down for a gallery.