Midsomer is an English County of rolling hills, farms, stately old-money manors, and quaint English bakeries in genteel town squares. It’s the kind of English countryside you’ll only find in a BBC production. This setting (the show is filmed across the English and Welsh countryside), combined with witty dialogue and intriguing mysteries have made Midsomer Murders one of the most popular, and long-running British crime series in BBC history.
Of course the ultimate “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” of the whole series is that Midsomer, for all its pastoral charm, has a higher per capita murder rate than any other locale in the world. Murders with motives ranging from personal to monetary occur on a seemingly regular basis. Oftentimes coupled with adultery, long-lost family secrets, and quirky county customs, these crimes seem not to draw any kind of acknowledgment from the general populace. But they do make for some of the best English mysteries ever filmed.
With the DVD set Midsomer Murders: The Early Cases Collection, Acorn Media compiles the first four series of the show, spanning 1997 – 2001. The show was initially based on the series of crime novels by Caroline Graham. This collection offers “The Killing at Badger’s Drift,” the pilot episode for the series and debut novel from Graham. The book is recognized as one of the best British mystery novels ever written.
Murders is anchored by the main character, Inspector Barnaby (portrayed by John Nettles) of the local PD. He’s not flashy, know-it-all hotshot. Inspector Barnaby projects the intense, uptight mannerisms of the typical British detective, yet shows an affable side in dealings with his family and young detective sergeant, Gavin Troy. The scenes with Barnaby, his wife, and theater-aspiring daughter bring a sense of stability to the episodes. Barnaby also enlists his family to help him work through the crime scenes over dinner.
The show benefits from frequent guest stars from classic British shows, like Judy Cornwell, best known as Daisy in the Britcom Keeping Up Appearances, as a New Age lodge member who can channel the past in “Death in Disguise” one of the better episodes of this collection. Another strong entry is “Electric Vendetta”, a UFO-centered episode where crop circles, grain harvesters, and electrocutions combine for one of Barnaby’s stranger cases. There are a few clunkers in the set, most notably “Blue Herrings,” a case set in an assisted living facility that drags along at an overly languid pace with a not-so-surprising ending.
The collection packaging is well-crafted, and though this may seem trivial, the disks themselves are easy to pull out. With multi-disk sets taking up so much space, its nice to see one packaged with attention to detail.