Signora Volpe

4 out of 5

Created by: Rachel Cuperman, Sally Griffiths

covers season 1

Some shows announce themselves as travel porn from the outset, and I don’t mind that: set a tone and pace and stick with it.

Despite starting far afield with MI6 agent Sylvia Fox (Emilia Fox) butting heads with her superiors and ex-husband Adam (Jamie Bamber) over dealings with undercover agents she runs, Signora Volpa soon gets us to the Italian countryside, to which Fox is vacationed – she’s suspended – as a result of this head-butting, and where she can visit her sister for her niece’s wedding. The whole affair is conducted with a light – but not flighty – hand, and scored and shot rather playfully, which puts us in the mood for some sun-stoked vistas and cobblestone streets; the show indulges.

But Fox, a seasoned ops agent herself, isn’t new to travel, so the series avoids lazy fish-out-of-water humor, or painting Italy as solely a getaway locale. Yes, the area she visits is rustic, but she starts to plant roots, making legitimate strides to reconnect with family and looking for a place to stay; this is to become a new home, and the show finds a very pleasant balance with that, between familiarity and discovery, the latter stemming from ‘s natural curiosity, which is where the show gets its fuel for its 90-minute episodes, during which finds herself involved in local mysteries of one version or another, sometimes serious, sometimes… a missing pig.

Volpe’s writers managae to amusingly juggle a few different casual puzzles at once, and use the extended runtime well: we casually bounce between unforced clues for each, generally with one more major plot guiding us, winding through the rest. The stakes are relative: things are important to people for various reasons, and Fox respects that; at the same time, it’s not all easy-going – there are murders; there are scuffles. Where the show can struggle a bit is in keeping Fox’s toe in MI6 waters – her reliance on past contacts for help is cute, but feels a bit like a cheat at times; and there’s the sense that the writers are just keeping a door open for future plots. But Fox (the actress) helps to pull this all together – her seemingly passive approach and constant scrutiny of the simplest matters / conversations allows us to believe she could have all of these things happening at once and managing them, and the show trusts her performance so we don’t have to have conclusions and decisions over-explained to us.

In other words, it’s all in good fun. We get to soak up some atmosphere, enjoy some intelligently pieced-together lite mysteries, and enjoy our time getting to know the locals as Fox settles more and more in to a life away from MI6.