Italy’s favorite bicycling priest is back on MHz Choice!

Welcome back, Don Matteo!

For the uninitiated, Don Matteo is a featherweight ensemble crime series—unashamedly light-hearted, comic and with a grand worldview. It’s got dramatic moments, but the episodes end up striking a positive note with Don Matteo saying something hopeful/redemptive to the perp as he or she is about to be hauled off. Formulaic? Sure—it’s serial television! Just like all the edgier/scandi noir titles have their tropes and orthodoxies—Don Matteo has them, too. Guess it just depends on which TV formulas you find entertaining. The stories will not leave you sweating out the ending. So if an ensemble dramedy about a crime-solving priest interests you—pull up a chair! Oh, and the episodes are filmed in north Umbria—in and around two of Italy’s most gorgeous medieval towns: Gubbio and Spoleto. Sure beats a studio set and gives the series texture and authenticity.

Terence Hill, who plays Don Matteo in Seasons 1 through 12, had become a superstar in the four decades before his gig began in 2000 as Gubbio’s crime-solving priest. Hill started working in films in the 1950s, becoming famous to Italian audiences as a young heartthrob and then to international audiences as a co-star with Bud Spencer in comic spaghetti Westerns (see samples below). In these, he’s lean as a beanpole and plays a puckish, free-spirited character. What stands out in these films is his athleticism and prowess at physical comedy.

You can read more about his body of work and his life story on his website.

Terence Hill and Bud Spencer in their younger days

The concept for Don Matteo comes from the Father Brown stories by English novelist G.K. Chesterton. He wrote about a short, non-descript Roman Catholic priest/amateur crime solver who always found the perp through intuition and an understanding of human nature. Father Brown had come to know men’s hearts and and the evil therein from years in the confessional – and unlike his more scientific counterpart Sherlock Holmes, his conclusions involved reason but were also informed by a spiritual understanding. Chesterton wrote 53 Father Brown stories in all, from 1910 to 1936. Don Matteo is hardly short and non-descript, but the idea of an insightful, crime-solving priest can be traced back to these works – and in interviews, Terence Hill has said as much.

Here’s what you need to know from the first eight seasons of Don Matteo


Don Matteo is a Gubbio local

Don Matteo’s assignment to Gubbio as parish priest means a return to his hometown. Prior to the series beginning, he’s spent after years on the international mission field in Latin America. He may know Gubbio and environs, but his parishioners don’t know him. At his first Sunday Mass, he makes a great impression on his future best friend, Marshal Cecchini (Nino Frassica) and shows himself to the community to be a keeper – a priest with heart.

Season 1, Episode 1 - “The Stranger”


Don Matteo's crime solving drives the Captain crazy

Don Matteo is not supposed to be involved with cases at all, according to the Captain. That’s why the Captain throws shade at the Marshal about his constant, secretive consulting with his priest friend. Whenever the Captain comes in on their huddles, Don Matteo and Marshal pretend they’re not talking about cases. But when they’re alone, Don Matteo leads Marshal’s thinking with pointed questions and suggestions.

In the series’ first episode, even after Don Matteo talks the perp into turning himself in, Captain Anceschi tries futilely to draw a boundary between him and future cases. Dream on, Captain…

Season 1, Episode 1 - “The Stranger”


In the first eight seasons, there were two Captains

Seasons 1 through 5 feature Captain Anceschi (Flavio Insinna) and Seasons 6 through 8 have Captain Tommasi (Simone Montedoro). Captain Anceschi married the Mayor (Milena Miconi) at the end of Season 5 and Captain Tommasi married Marshal’s daughter, Patrizia (Pamela Saino) at the end of Season 8.


The rectory: "The Island of Misfit Toys"

(Credit for that phrase: the classic 1964 NBC Rudolph Christmas special) Don Matteo’s rectory is safe harbor for the vulnerable and down-and-out: in each season, supporting characters take refuge there and figure in episodes.

The rectory constants are Natalina (Nathalie Guetta) and Pippo (Francesco Scali). Natalina cooks and keeps house and Pippo oversees the physical aspects of the church property. They are like brother and sister, cat and dog and sometimes oil and water. She has a bad temper and he’s an amiable soul who longs for a wife and family.

Like work spouses, Don Matteo and Natalina know each other well and have forged a working relationship. Her respect for Don Matteo causes her to be protective of him and he has the wisdom to see past her bluster and short temper. Natalina dreams of a life outside the rectory and a family of her own, which makes her vulnerable to bad actors. In Season 3, Episode 10 (see clip below), Natalina gets scammed by a con artist professing love for her and leaves the rectory. She ends up emptying her bank account – plus the church’s – and giving it to the crook. Don Matteo tried to warn her and looked in vain for her after she fled. After her dreams have collapsed, she and Don Matteo see each other in the Piazza Grande.

Season 3, Episode 10 - “Natalina in Love”


Don Matteo has a strong comic focus

In Don Matteo, it’s rarely the crimes or the criminals you remember – it’s the comedy. The ensemble includes multiple great comic actors, but reigning over them all is Nino Frassica (Marshal) with Terence Hill serving as straight man. Like Jerry Lewis says in the film “Funny Bones,” “There are two types of comedians: there’s a funny bones comedian and a non-funny bones comedian. They’re both funny: one IS funny, the other TELLS funny.” Frassica is an old-fashioned, physical, funny bones comedian. Sometimes presenting an inscrutable mask, sometimes exploding with anger or bravado, he’s a cauldron of opinions and reactions he’s trying to keep to himself. He reminds me of Jackie Gleason, who also shouted loudly with his non-verbals. There are many episodes where Frassica steals the scene with mugging and schtick – one gem is from Season 3 Episode 8, in which Marshal goes undercover to a health spa to investigate a murder. Too bad they try to make him go healthy!

Season 3, Episode 8 - “Beauty Farm”


Gubbio is one amazing place

The historic and architectural treasure trove that is Gubbio provides a unique backdrop for Seasons 1-8. It’s an ancient/medieval town 30 miles outside of Perugia with many Gothic churches, an intact Roman theater and annual cultural festivals such as the running of the candles (Corsa dei Ceri), a crossbow contest, a human chess game in the main square (Piazza Grande) and many art and music festivals. It was also the home of St. Francis for a time. All these elements figure into Don Matteo stories. Gubbio and the surrounding region is also known for truffle hunting, Etruscan relics and the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, which was built near the top of Mt. Ingino. One gets to the basilica with little cable cars that give you a great view of the town. In Season 3 Episode 12, Captain Anceschi and his mother ride in one and they talk about his taking a leap and living his life more.


Don Matteo keeps it simple

The lack of sophistication of Don Matteo is part of its charm. It’s culturally rich with many direct and indirect references to Italy’s history and art, but never heady. Don Matteo is really about life’s best and most basic things – faith, friendship and the value of connection. It’s a light crime show about more than crime – it’s about enjoying all seasons of life and respecting people on their individual journeys, even the perps. It’s about our shared humanity and seeing the value and the impact that intentional kindness can have on a community. At the end of Season 5, a crowd shows up to see Don Matteo off after he gets a hasty relocation assignment to Brazil.

Season 5, Episode 24 - “False Start”

Don Matteo is also very much about the friendship between the Marshal and Don Matteo. In this clip from the beginning of Season 6, the Marshal is stuck in the middle of a police ceremony just as Don Matteo is returning to Gubbio after his time away.

Season 6, Episode 1 - “Welcome Back, Don Matteo”

So are you ready to join the fun in Spoleto? The gang from Season 9 awaits – see you there!

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