Acorn Media // 2003 // 1170 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // February 3rd, 2011
Catching killers, juggling life...it's all in a day's work.
Blue Murder hits its stride early, quickly establishing a steadfast and steady balance between the disparate elements of its protagonist's life: a police detective by day, a single mother by night. It may not be groundbreaking television, but this kind of solid consistency is nothing to sneeze at.
DCI Janine Lewis (Caroline Quentin, Jonathan Creek) has just been promoted to lead detective on the same day she finds her husband in bed with another woman. Now suddenly a single mother -- and pregnant with a new baby on the way -- her personal life is threatening her professional one: chasing down murderers on the streets of Manchester.
Blue Murder: Complete Collection contains all five seasons of the ITV police drama spread across nine discs:
Series 1 (2003)
* "Blue Murder: Part 1"
* "Blue Murder: Part 2"
Series 2 (2004)
* "Hit and Run"
* "Up In Smoke"
* "Fragile Relations"
Series 3 (2006)
* "Steady Eddie"
* "Make Believe"
* "The Spartacus Thing"
* "In Deep"
Series 4 (2007)
* "Not a Matter of Life and Death"
* "Desperate Measures"
* "Crisis Management"
Series 5 (2009)
* "Having It All"
* "Tooth and Claw"
* "This Charming Man"
* "Private Sins: Part One"
* "Private Sins: Part Two"
Blue Murder balances a taut and procedural-driven detective drama and a family narrative about a single mother trying to make ends meet. What I like about this show is that it perfectly represents the kind of continuity and depth of focus that American cop shows struggle to develop, and the kind that the Brits have down to a tee. This is a show that knows exactly what it wants to be.
It is refreshing to find a show come out of the gate so well-defined that, six years later, it remains pleasantly constant. A tweak here and there to the cast is the only marker of time. Tiny nuances in Blue Murder that feel a bit rough around the edges in Series One feels smooth and limber in Series Five; camera shots are steadier, makeup is more realistic, and acting is tighter, but the show remains fundamentally the same. In typical U.K. fashion, Blue Murder: Complete Collection emphasizes quality over quantity. A full five-season run amounts to only nineteen episodes. If you're new to British import television, it's not a typo; it's just how they do it across the pond. Then again, it may be the secret to exactly how the Brits kick out such quality cop drama.
Like a good murder of the week show, Blue Murder mixes things up, often featuring multiple investigations being worked on a tangent, only to find out in the second act that -- surprise! -- they are part and parcel of the same case. DCI Lewis investigates everything from racial violence to human trafficking, every variety of murder you can imagine, sexual deviancy, madness, and arson, all the while balancing a complicated family life at home. The resolutions are always satisfying and neat, with everything tying cleanly before the credits roll. Again, there's nothing particularly groundbreaking going on here, but there are few things as satisfying as a well-penned murder mystery. Every episode of Blue Murder is solid in tone and execution.
At first glance, you wouldn't know Caroline Quentin was out of her comfort zone at all as a single mother and working detective, but when you consider her background is all comedy, her performance becomes twice as impressive. The acting is solid throughout the series -- Quentin gets the majority of the focus and character development, but her co-workers become quickly endearing. Ian Kelsey is serviceable as DI Mayne, the on-again off-again flirtatious foil to Lewis, but their chemistry is not particularly strong. The rest of the squad get plenty of face time, but we only get tiny slivers of their back story. How can we forget such key background players as the grey haired fellow, or the ginger? He was fantastic in that thing I saw him in.
Acorn has a nice set in Blue Murder: Complete Collection. Spread over nine discs, there's a lot of material here -- almost twenty hours of content. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the show looks very strong on DVD, clean and free from defect. The older episodes are a bit rougher in the fidelity department compared to the latter; too grainy and soft. Later episodes are pleasingly balanced in color and black level, detail and mild grain, with only mild aliasing. A high-definition transfer this isn't, but it gets the job done -- and for Acorn, this is above average.
Audio is a simple stereo track with strong bass and punchy atmospheric balance. Dialogue is slightly muffled and often tricky to hear in the mix, leading to some volume fuddling throughout to keep things balanced. The lack of subtitles is a big drawback, and one I came to curse repeatedly as I waded through the box set. The thick Manchester drawls of the cast can be tricky to navigate under the best of circumstances. Later episodes get closed captioning, but it isn't really the same.
Extras are okay; we get a behind-the-scenes documentary, cast filmographies, and text interviews with stars Caroline Quentin and Ian Kelsey.
Blue Murder suffers from sizable pacing issues. With each episode running 90 minutes in length (some run in two parts) the show has double the time to tell the kind of Weekly Murder stories that a show like Law and Order: Criminal Intent can wrap up easily in 44 scant minutes. So, we get methodical storytelling; a laid-back narrative that takes its sweet time building up to plot twists, goes about its day lazily, files the appropriate paperwork, and steps out for a cup of tea every 15 minutes or so. I admit that I had a hard time maintaining interest on more than one occasion. In Series Five, the format switches to 60-minute episodes, which helps speed things along, but by this point, the show is already on its last legs.
Blue Murder is a solid detective mystery, doling out 90 minutes of intrigue and old-fashioned detective work. It might be a bit slow in pace, but the acting and writing are top-notch, and the single workaday mother angle helps to distinguish it from its many competitors.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 1170 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Interview
* Official Site