Tim Stack
March 30, 2009 AT 06:00 AM EDT

HBO debuted its new series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency tonight and, for me, it was sort of a mixed bag. I’m not really familiar with the book series on which HBO’s program is based, but I’m a sucker for anything that airs on the cable channel. First off, I have to discuss Jill Scott’s performance as Precious: It was fantastic. Perfect casting. She was warm but conveyed such intelligence and strength. I’ve always been a fan of her music, but I think she’s really evolving into a great actress. (She was the best part of Tyler Perry’s 2007 film Why Did I Get Married?) The Botswana location was another strong point. Director Anthony Minghella (who sadly died after completing The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency; tonight’s episode was the last thing he directed) captured Africa soooo beautifully. The colors and the landscapes were just stunning. I loved the early flashback scenes in which Precious described her upbringing and how her father taught her to be fully aware at all times and take note of details.

So that was the good stuff. The pacing is what really threw me off. It moved with the speed of an elephant taking a stroll. It actually sort of felt like Murder, She Wrote but even less dramatic. And that show starred a senior citizen! I’m hoping that as this show progresses, the plot lines become a teensy bit more suspenseful. I’m not expecting Precious to get into foot chases with suspects, but at least there could be some more scenes like the one toward the end with Idris Elba’s Charlie, which was tense and compelling. Also, I pray that Elba returns. One thing I think the show could benefit from is a strong, central villain.

And I’m hoping they find a way to use Anika Noni Rose better. She was such a scene stealer in Dreamgirls, and here she seems saddled with a kind of thankless role as Precious’ assistant. Or at least it was thankless in the premiere. Perhaps this character will become more involved later in the season.

What did you think of No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, PopWatchers? Got Angela Lansbury on the brain, too? Will you tune in again?

addCredit(“Keith Bernstein/HBO”)

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