Murphy’s Law stars the inexplicably appealing James Nesbitt as Tommy Murphy, an Irishman in London—a “hardheaded, hard-drinking undercover cop.” The second season (Series 2) is comprised of six episodes on two disks; each episode runs approximately 50 minutes. I love the look of British crime dramas; it’s as if the sun never rises over the British Empire. They seem uniformly dark and gritty, populated with characters to match.
Because Murphy’s assignments are all undercover, he assumes a different identity in each episode. In the first he’s a hardheaded, hard-drinking street person looking for a serial killer; in the second he’s a hardheaded, hard-drinking detective investigating another squad, in the third he’s a hardheaded, hard-drinking car thief working to put a halt to an international car theft operation which turns out to be so much more. Despite his hardheadedness and heavy drinking, he is immensely likable.
Unlike many programs about undercover investigations, Murphy’s Law does not wear us out with blown covers. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy Murphy’s Law more than American shows about undercover cops. The drama is similar to other British crime series; the difference is that the crimes are solved “undercover.”
In the set’s first episode, “Jack is Back,” Murphy learns that an undercover investigator and close friend has been murdered. There is a series of Ripper-like murders we (husband Chip and I) incorrectly solved several times before the closing credits. When the killer was revealed, we were surprised. That’s a positive recommendation.
Episode two, “Bent Moon on the Rise,” relates the story of a bent drug squad. I hate drug themes; after a while all the dealers seem the same, and I couldn’t care less if they were hunted down like rats and shot in the street. Even if it was my street. Nevertheless, “Bent Moon on the Rise” was satisfyingly suspenseful, and kept me engaged. As if to punish me for hating drug themes, episode three involves Interpol and a car-smuggling ring. With an Interpol agent who may have another agenda, father-son gangster dynamics, and lots of weapons, it trounced my aversion to icky Interpol storylines. (Yes, I’m a fussy viewer. Too bad it’s not in a good way.)
As we become better acquainted with Tommy Murphy, we learn that his so-called hard-headedness is, in fact, a dedication to right. Murphy isn’t a character who settles; he’s a dogged pursuer who won’t quit until the bad guys are dead or in jail. One should know what in Murphy’s past made him the man he is; his daughter was murdered by IRA terrorists years ago. So behind his “Irish charm and wisecracking demeanor” lies private torment. Try very hard to catch some of that wisecracking, by the way; it is quite amusing.
In “Alice,” we find Murphy undercover in a biotech company investigating the death of a young boy who may have been exposed to a toxic chemical leak. Although the death was successfully covered up as a drowning, the boy’s mother has been trying to pin responsibility on the biotech lab. Proving that he’s equally as good with a mop as a gun, Murphy poses as a hardheaded janitor (there wasn’t much drinking in this episode). As Murphy gets closer to the truth, more bodies fall. Every episode is good; this one exceptionally so.
A novice nun appears to have committed suicide in “Convent,” the fifth episode, while another has disappeared. Murphy dons a habit and enters the local convent as a novice. (Okay, you caught me. That’s a lie. But if Whoopi Goldberg can slip into a habit, why can’t James Nesbitt?) Murphy actually assumes the role of a priest, who seems neither hard-headed nor hard-drinking. When he does take a little taste of something… well… it’s not liquor. The convent provides an eerie atmosphere; the episode is suspenseful and strange. The red herrings pop up here and there, keeping us guessing.
“The Group” is about murderers being murdered. Don’t you love it? Murphy does not go undercover as a hardheaded, hard-drinking murderer; this time he joins a support group for murder victims’ relatives where he learns details about his daughter’s murderers. This episode is the most revealing about Murphy and his past. It also presents Murphy with a moral dilemma that will have some rooting for the “wrong” choice. It would be hard to choose a “best” episode of Murphy’s Law, but episodes five and six are strong contenders.
Murphy’s Law is an intense, entertaining crime drama that showcases James Nesbitt. Although there is a supporting cast, the stories are all-Murphy, all the time. Nesbitt tempers Murphy’s intensity with charm and delivers an interestingly balanced portrayal. There is a biography of Nesbitt included as an extra feature on the Murphy’s Law – Series 2 DVD. The audio and video on episodes two and six (on the review copy) were distractingly out of synch.
Bottom Line: Would I buy/rent Murphy’s Law? Yes, it makes a fitting companion to my British crime drama collection.