Gritty and realistic cop shows are no longer the rarity they once were. Gone are the days of the squad car with the clean cut officers in uniform helping little old ladies across the street and arresting the bad guys. It was a far less complicated time, when cops didn't swear, cheat on their wives, drink too much or have any of the personal problems that seem to affect cops on television these days. Heck, I doubt the boys on Adam-12 could have even told you what post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was, let alone be suffering from it after being involved in one too many shoot-outs or seeing one too many corpses.
Nowadays the troubled but honest cop with a checkered history is close to being a cliche. It's amazing there are any cops able to climb into a squad car on television anymore so many of them seem to be in need of therapy of some kind or another. It's come to the point where you have to wonder if there's anything new that can be done with the genre, or at least a way that doesn't flog the same old horse to death. On the surface the six episodes of Murphy's Law, Series 2 to be found on the two-DVD set being released by Acorn Media on April 27, 2010, appear to adhere to the familiar formula.
Tommy Murphy (James Nesbitt) has moved from Ireland to join an elite undercover squad in London in an attempt to put his daughter's murder by the IRA behind him. He's slapped on the stereotypical face of the charming wisecracking Irishman to hide behind while working on some of the most dirty and dangerous jobs the force has to offer. Even better, as far as he's concerned, is the fact his job requires him to take on a different persona for each case, giving him one more barrier he can throw up between himself and the rest of the world. Even with that extra twist, it was still a pleasant surprise to find how little Murphy's Law depended on the "troubled cop" for their story lines.
Instead of spending huge swathes of time watching Murphy agonize at home alone or drink himself into a stupor because of his past, it's merely part of the baggage he carries around with him. Sure there are occasions when it all gets too much for him and he goes on a bender. However, most of the time it comes out in far subtler ways, as in his attitudes towards particular types of criminals or the decisions he makes when on a case. As for the cases themselves, he works in a division of the police force which other cops don't even know exists that functions to investigate suspicious activity to see whether or not a crime has occurred. Murphy's job is to go undercover, blend in with the environment, and ferret out information any way he can. Needless to say his methods tend towards the unorthodox, but as he gets results his superiors usually have no trouble turning a blind eye to his means.
In the six episodes in series two, Murphy pretends to be everything from a bent cop to a homeless alcoholic as he investigates the apparent serial killing of homeless women, the mysterious death of a drug squad member, the covering up of a possible toxic waste spill, a crime victims' support group suspected of vigilante activity, a mysterious death in a convent, and joins forces with an Interpol agent in investigating a high end car theft ring. While for the most part the story lines are what you'd expect from the "lone wolf cop who marches to his own beat" type of show, Nesbitt's portrayal of Murphy, and the character's personal history, add the extra ingredient needed to elevate them above the usual.
On occasion Murphy will let his emotions overcome his sense, resulting in either his pursuing the wrong person or making decisions he will come to regret later. Whether sleeping with a suspect or taking the crime he's investigating personally, he always seems to get overly involved one way or another. While sometimes that doesn't work out too well for him on a personal level, it seems to be the way that he operates best. He's pushed to do that little bit extra others wouldn't in order to solve a case. He's not very worried about the legality of what he does either, as he has no problem breaking and entering into premises without a search warrant in order to garner evidence.
While that type of behaviour might not help obtain convictions in court, as illegally procured evidence is inadmissible, in some cases Murphy appears more interested in justice as he sees it rather than convicting people. Which doesn't mean he's going to kill anyone, but he'll use whatever means he can to bring them to their knees and make them confess. In some ways you have the feeling that he sees the crooks he hunts down as surrogates for the person who murdered his daughter all those years ago. However, as we find out, no matter how personal it becomes, there's still a line he's unwilling to cross and he won't carry out a sentence on his own.
James Nesbitt does a masterful job of bringing the driven Murphy to life. When the mask slips completely, as it does a couple times over the course of the series, to reveal the deeply scarred man underneath, we see there's more than just grief at work. Guilt and self-loathing over the circumstances in which his daughter died are digging a far bigger hole in his soul than grief ever could. When we see that, we begin to understand why he's so reckless and willing to risk his life, and what drives him to take on the cases nobody else is either able or willing to deal with. He couldn't prevent his daughter from being murdered, or bring the people who did it to justice, so by solving these cases he's able to work off some of his frustration and guilt.
While Murphy's Law may have many elements that will seem familiar from other police procedurals, it's elevated to another level by the performance of James Nesbitt. The box set of Murphy's Law: Series 2 may not come with much in the way of special features (a text biography of James Nesbitt is about it) but that's more than compensated for by the one built into it — James Nesbitt. Even if you don't like police shows, you'll not want to miss these if only to witness his portrayal of Tommy Murphy.