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DVD Review: ‘Midsomer Murders: Series One Through Five’

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002It is an unfortunate fact that some of the greatest British television shows are practically unknown in the United States. A case in point is Midsomer Murders, which premiered way back in 1997 on the English ITV network. The series had been shown on both A&E and PBS, but never really caught on with a mass audience. Acorn Media have been releasing DVD collections of Midsomer Murders for the U.S. market for some time now. Their latest batch is particularly intriguing, as the sets present the episodes in their original U.K. broadcast order.

For this Midsomer fan, it has been something of a revelation. I speak from experience when discussing the situation with the show, as I did not begin watching it until 2011. That was the first season with Neil Dudgeon as Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby, and I fell for the program immediately. The only problem with this was when I realized that I had missed the first 13 series of the program, and had 81 episodes to catch up on. It is actually a good problem, as there are not too many shows that I have a desire to watch 81 episodes of. Midsomer Murders is definitely one of them.

As I mentioned, Acorn have been packaging various collections of Midsomer Murders for some time now, but these sets represent the first time they have been presented in their original broadcast order. For the following, please keep in mind that the Brits use the word “series” in place of the U.S. “season.”

The three-DVD Midsomer Murders: Series One contains the first full series/season of the show. These are the first five mysteries, which are spread out over the course of the set. Each mystery runs approximately 90 minutes, which make them much more like TV movies, rather than an episodic series. The mysteries are The Killings at Badger‘s Drift, Faithful Unto Death, Written in Blood, Death in Disguise, and Death of a Hollow Man and were originally broadcast during 1997-1998.

For someone like myself, who came in so late, seeing this first incarnation of Midsomer is a real treat. Things have not changed dramatically over the years, but it is quite enjoyable to see what it was like at the start.

Midsomer County is a fictional English suburb, reportedly based on Somerset, where much of the exterior shots are from. The basis for the program are the Chief Inspector Barnaby books by Caroline Graham, the first of which was published in 1997. Caroline Graham has written a total of seven Chief Inspector Barnaby books, the first of which The Killings at Badger’s Drift was adapted to become the first Midsomer Murders episode. There have been a number of writers involved with Midsomer over the years, but the template generally remains the same.

First of all, these are all murder mysteries, as the program’s title indicates. One of the things that makes the situations so consistently intriguing are the locations, and general wealth of the participants. On the most basic level, the landscapes of Midsomer County are  gorgeous. Like the real Somerset County, is a very wealthy suburban enclave. It is filled with rich, eccentric Brits who are fascinating.

Even though we are just along for the ride as Detective Chief John Barnaby (John Nettles) tries to solve the murders, there is a wonderful sense of voyeurism in watching these strange people interact. Some of them are so odd as for this to qualify as an anthropological study. The humor level is pretty high as well, and it is never dumb. The observational humor of Midsomer cracks me up, and it always comes at the most unexpected times.

In watching Midsomer Murders: Series One straight through, it is no surprise at all that the series was picked up. They had all of the important pieces in place, pretty much right from the start. Besides the mysteries, there are a couple of bonus features in the set. These include production notes and a Midsomer map.

Midsomer Murders: Series Two is a two-DVD set, containing all four episodes from the second series. These first aired during the 1998-1999 television year. The mysteries are Strangler‘s Wood, Blood Will Out, Death’s Shadow, and Beyond the Grave. Again, this is filled with great moments, and some great visuals. Bonus features include production notes and a Misomer map.

Midsomer Murders: Series Three is a two-DVD set, and contains all four episodes from the third series. They originally aired during 1999-2000. The mysteries are Death of a Stranger, Blue Herrings, Judgement Day, and Beyond the Grave. Bonus features include production notes and a Midsomer map.

Midsomer Murders: Series Four is a three-DVD set, and contains all five episodes from the third series. They originally aired during 2000-2001. The mysteries are Garden of Death, Destroying Angel, The Electric Vendetta, Who Killed Cock Robin?, and Dark Autumn. Bonus features include production notes and a Midsomer map.

The final installment in this initial batch is Midsomer Murders: Series Five, a three-DVD set, and contains all five episodes from the third series. They originally aired during 2001-2002. The mysteries are Tainted Fruit, Market for Murder, A Worm in the Bud, Ring Out Your Dead, and Murder on St. Malley‘s Day. Bonus features include production notes and a Midsomer map.

Just to be clear, Acorn have previously released these mysteries in other sets, but never in their original U.K. broadcast order. The show is great, and perhaps because they have been previously issued, the price is extremely reasonable. Midsomer Murders is one of the finest British murder mystery programs I have ever seen. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

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