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HBO couldn't be less explicit with first-rate No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

A plus-size star is born: Jill Scott as Precious Ramotswe.

Premiering: Sunday, March 29th at 7 p.m. (central) on HBO
Starring: Jill Scott, Anika Noni Rose, Lucian Msamati, Desmond Dube, Winston Ntshona, Mosaka Mogara
Produced by: Richard Curtis, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein and the late Sydney Pollack

Imagine an HBO series that could air untouched on any advertiser-supported broadcast network.

Well, this is it. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, premiering Sunday (7 p.m. central), divorces itself from all HBO basics. And this particular marriage dates all the way back to 1984's 1st & Ten, in which the newfound freedoms of pay cable TV dictated ample profanity, nudity and, urp, the presence of O.J. Simpson in seven of the episodes.

Ladies' Detective Agency, shot entirely in Botswana, Africa and drawn from the nine same-named novels, stars a plus-sized heroine who lives to honor her late, loving father. Precious Ramotswe (Jill Scott) doesn't curse or get naked. Nor does she pack a pistol, throw punches or deploy anyone who does. Instead, Precious charms and disarms with declarations like, "I don't like telephones. People think they can just speak to you willy-nilly."

HBO has ordered seven episodes of this sweetheart of a series, which is original without being prototypically edgy. Viewers are only required to sit back and slowly warm to it. There's no rush at all.

Sunday's two-hour premiere moves at a leisurely pace, first setting up the relationship between little girl Precious and her doting, wizened "Daddy" (Winston Ntshona).

"From my father, I got a sense of justice, and the pleasure of solving a mystery," a grown Precious narrates. On his deathbed, he urges his only daughter to marry a kind man the next time. It's spoken, not depicted. But earlier in her adult life, a pregnant Precious lost a child after her husband beat her.

Precious ends up inheriting 180 cows from her revered father. She sells them, and with the proceeds heads to the compact city of Gabarone, which is Botswana's capital. Her sole intent is to open a detective agency, which she does in a former post office building. Benevolent neighbors include a hairdresser named BK (Desmond Dube) and a mechanic (Lucian Msamati) she met after her daddy's "ATSUN" pickup truck broke down.

Scott exudes appeal as Precious. But things don't really get rolling until prim, proper, opinionated Grace Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose) shows up to take the job as secretary of an agency that initially has no clients.

Grace must make do with two antiquated typewriters, both of them missing letters but not the same ones. Her 'tude is instantly elementary to the series, dear Watsons. She supplies the necessary juice to Ladies' Detective Agency, stealing scenes in ways that make you want to cheer each and every theft.

Sunday's opener, directed by the late Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), premiered last year on the BBC. The subsequent six episodes were commissioned by HBO, which might well make more if audiences respond.

In April 5th's Episode 2, Grace pretty much states the case for the series' basic approach. "Detective work is not all bang, bang, bang, like in the movies," she asserts.

Ladies' Detective Agency instead goes about the business of determining whether a long-lost father is a fake. Or if a husband is a philanderer. And what about that dentist and his mysterious mood swings?

Some of the guest male roles are played more than a bit broadly, particularly that of the Lothario who comes on to Precious during her clandestine visit to The Go-Go Handsome Man's Bar.

It's no big deal, though. This is a series that marches to its own beat -- and distinctive music -- without clubbing viewers over the head with graphic violence or mangled corpses. Basically it's a self-contained weekly police "procedural," but with a heroine whose joys of discovery are effervescent.

"Do not worry about me. I am made of strong stuff," Precious says to those who fear for her safety. All well and good. But above all, here's a detective who also has a great deal of fun opening and shutting her various cases. That's what gives Ladies' Detective Agency its bounce. If she's not having a good time, then neither are we.

GRADE: A-minus