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‘Remember Me’ review: Michael Palin shines in PBS mystery

Michael Palin, center, stars with Mayuri Boonham and

Michael Palin, center, stars with Mayuri Boonham and Hannah Ward in "Remember Me." Photo Credit: ITV Studios Global Entertainment

THE SERIES “Remember Me”

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on WNET/13

GRADE B

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Tom Parfitt (Michael Palin) is “eighty-odd,” but otherwise in good shape and apparent good spirits. Nevertheless, he wants to escape the home he has lived in Scarborough for decades. He has his reasons, and some of those relate to the old ballad “Scarborough Fair.” One morning, he stages an accident, which forces him into a nursing home. All goes well there, until one of the social workers at the facility falls out of his room window to her death. No one suspects Tom — but if not Tom, then who pushed her? Rob Fairholme (Mark Addy), a local detective, is called to investigate. He’s helped by a nurse at the facility who wants answers. Hannah Ward (Jodie Comer) doesn’t know what she’s about to get involved in. This three-parter — written and directed by Gwyneth Hughes (HBO’s “The Girl”) — first aired in the United Kingdom in 2014.

MY SAY Ghost stories need atmospherics, and “Remember Me” has atmospherics all right. The wind moans, but never blows. The clouds hang in the sky rather than float. They are listless, gray, motionless, burdened. The North Sea surges. The beach is endless. The emptiness is cosmic — until a prostrate figure on the sand in the far distance begins to stir, then levitate. That emptiness is suddenly sinister, even malignant. Nature has been inverted. The supernatural has arrived.

You get the idea: Ghosts are here. The first 15 minutes of “Remember Me,” in fact, are actually the best because the dissonance is so striking. What is Michael Palin doing in a place like this, or a story like this? Soon enough you want to have an answer, then you must have an answer. The only problem is that you’ll also have to wait three hours to get one. Put another way, “Remember Me” is a three-hour miniseries that would have been better served as a 90-minute movie. Sunday’s launch, by the way, is the strongest of those three hours.

But viewers — or some anyway — aren’t coming for the ghosts. They’ll be coming for the main attraction. Palin, 74, hasn’t had a starring role on a TV series in a quarter of a century, which seems unimaginable. He’s one of the screen’s true legends, and to fans of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” a veritable god. To call him a TV “treasure” wouldn’t be too much of an overstatement. And here he is, back again, as Tom Parfitt, a doddering pensioner with deep secrets and hidden skeletons. He seems kindly. Appearances are deceiving.

In a recent interview with The New York Times — commemorating this rare role — he explained the absence as a simple function of creative drive. He likes to write as opposed to act: “Writing was expressing myself, and gave me the freedom to think about what I really wanted to do, rather than work to someone else’s schedule. I felt that freedom was quite important.”

Palin’s Parfitt isn’t on screen all that much here — his character goes missing for a long stretch — but the pleasure of his company is what keeps “Remember Me” moving along. We do remember Palin. We couldn’t possibly forget.

BOTTOM LINE A decent ghost story with a few good chills, and excellent atmospherics. But Palin is the main attraction.

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