The suburbs are at best supposed to be an escape from the crime-ridden and corrupt world of life in the city. The stereotype, which is what it really is, makes for an interesting plot device for film and television. ITV's Midsomer Murders sometimes feels like a drive through the mind of Charles Manson if he lived in suburbia with Agatha Christie.
Currently in its eleventh season, Midsomer Murders is a series of mysteries involving death and corruption in the English countryside inspired by the Tom Barnaby detective novels of Caroline Graham. Although the episodes have moved further and further away from the source material that inspired them, the show remains relatively the same. I don’t mind that in a television show.
Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) plays a detective chief inspector who investigates murders in the Midsomer counties. He’s a bit clichéd in one sense because at times he seems to love his job more than his own family, which consists of his actress daughter Cully (Laura Howard) and his wife Joyce (Jane Wymark). On the other hand, he never takes the job home with a sense of dread.
Instead, he tends to mock the situations he finds himself in. That in itself is a rare quality in crime dramas these days. Take a look at the average episode of Inspector Morse next to an episode of Midsomer Murders and you’ll likely see the difference.
There have been three partners (detective sergeants) in the course of the eleven seasons the show has been on. The first was Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey), who left the series after his character passed the sergeants' exam and moved on to another station. The second one was Dan Scott (John Hopkins), who left the series after becoming mysteriously “ill” off-screen. The third, currently in the series, is Ben Jones (Jason Hughes).
Out of the three partners Barnaby has had, the award for the best easily goes to Daniel Casey's Troy. He was bumbling and tactless and had a penchant for political incorrectness compared to the rather mature and insightful Barnaby. John Hopkins' Scott could have easily been as good as Troy; instead he was written as merely wallpaper. It's hard to say how I feel about Hughes as Ben Jones; aside from being a Freemason, his character is written to be as flat as a pancake.
Set Ten covers the second half of the eighth season of the series. This set also contains the final episodes of Dan Scott as Barnaby's partner. Unlike Set Nine, you don't ultimately feel cheated with only one quality story ("Bantling Boy") and several duds.
The best of these are the first three: "Second Sight", "Hidden Depths", and "Sauce For The Goose". "Second Sight" is one of my favorites of the Dan Scott era, right next to "Bantling Boy" and "The Straw Woman". For some reason, I like his character in episodes where the atmosphere is rather creepy.
Story-wise it goes in this order:
- "Second Sight"
- "Hidden Depths"
- "Sauce For The Goose"
- "Midsomser Rhapsody"
It's exactly like the order of the set itself — weird.
Since I'm a fan of science fiction, I find myself very attracted to the "Second Sight" episode. The story mostly deals with a murder of a man who could possibly have a secret power to see into the future. One of the suspects manages to clown Barnaby by use of this power as he sounds off on each card Barnaby draws from a deck. After the suspect hits the right mark with every card, he clowns Barnaby further by noting the mirror showing his reflection behind him.
"Hidden Depths" deals with a suicide that turns out to be a murder. From there it becomes a story about a con job involving wine and a plot to kill the people involved in the scheme. The rather large plot of this story was a bit much for me. It's already a headache trying to figure out one mystery, but two mysteries in one show can wear down a viewer's patience. Still, it's a good episode despite the over-reaching.
"Sauce For The Goose" is another good story involving a man murdered at a relish factory. The story has a nice little connecting sideplot involving an elderly woman who sees things, but it ultimately gets cut off by the murder mystery. It would have made more sense to make that a story of its own, rather than mesh it into this one.
"Midsomer Rhapsody" involves the murder of man over a piece of composition from a famous work of the same name. This one is also overplotted a bit. I'd avoid it. As John Hopkins didn't film a goodbye episode with MM, this episode is kind of a waste anyway.
Set Ten has a bit more quality to offer than Set Nine. There are still no extras, aside from the usual textual bio info on the actors and actresses for each of the episodes. It's too bad that Acorn Media chose to repackage the Troy years into another collection (to be released on March 25) with special features that should have been included in the individual box sets MM fans already have.
To their credit, I can understand the trouble with making special features work. Gathering actors, the contracts, finding the time to schedule everyone in for filming, can be a rather difficult task. It's only fitting that for all that to go to DVD, it would have to be repackaged to make it a more attractive purchase for the fans. Still, if you just care about the episodes and not extras or audio commentary, these Midsomer Murders box sets are perfect. Otherwise, you might want to wait for the upcoming release of Midsomer Murders: The Early Cases Collection.