Aurelio Zen.

Are you watching Zen? It's KPBS' new Masterpiece Mystery! series based on the Aurelio Zen books by Michael Dibdin, and it's delightful--much more compelling than the usual Masterpiece fare, it's more lively than dour Wallender without being ridiculous like Poirot or Marple.

Aurelio Zen is a Venetian-born detective working in Rome with a reputation for integrity that puts him at odds with Italy's longstanding tradition of political patronage, but his willingness to bend the rules and ruin an impeccably tailored suit to see justice done generally prevails.

Zen is at once sophisticated and steely, sneaky and sincere, sensitive and slightly perplexed. Externally, he's cool customer, even when kidnapped, but internally, we know he's crapping his pants. He looks anywhere but where you would expect when a prostitute disrobes, but tells his cheating wife, "I wouldn't wrap a dead dog in your gratitude."

Like Zen himself, the scenery is a study in contrasts, striking beauty marred by human imperfection, full of wide-shots of ancient, crumbling architecture narrowing to close-ups of modern sports cars racing through oddly traffic-free streets. Zen's Rome is inhabited by handsome men and impossibly chic women in pencil skirts lunching al fresco with graffiti at their backs and cobblestones at their feet. And since this is Rome as conceived by the BBC, all the men have charming English accents.

Need further inducement?

Zen is somewhat broken and lives with his mother, so I'm pretty sure I'd have a chance.

But I might have to fight that creeper Alan Cumming for him.

Watch the first two episodes online until August 31st.

The third and final episode airs next Sunday at 9:00pm, here in San Diego, but check your local listings, as the PBS scheduling is inconsistent.


My sacred cow is skinny.

Skinny Cow Truffle Bars are the best.

At 100 calories each, I figure I can eat 12 of them a day and still be okay. A box for breakfast, a box for lunch and a sensible dinner.