Acorn Media // 2009 // 598 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // April 21st, 2010
"Who knew a dinosaur had just become a celebrity?"
"Perhaps someday everybody will be as fascinated with pathologists and police detectives."
-- a conversation between Dr. Julia Ogden and Detective William Murdoch
People were fascinated with the detective story in the 1890s; just ask Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Allan Poe. The deprived people of that era didn't have three versions of CSI on every night, though. Modern civilization does, so if you want to do a show about a pathologist and a police detective, you need to differentiate it a little bit. How? Set it in 1890s Toronto.
Murdoch Mysteries, a Canadian TV series based on novels by Maureen Jennings, follows the cases of Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson, Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye), a singleminded detective who shoots guns in his office to test theories and can get to the heart of a physics equation as easily as he can understand the heart of a killer. He seems a little clueless about his own heart, which is devoted to Dr. Julia Ogden (Helene Joy, Durham County), the pretty pathologist who helps him with his inquiries. His boss, Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig, Coronation Street), and his leg man, Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris, Grown Up Movie Star), struggle to keep up with Murdoch and Julia, but who wouldn't?
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 2 features 13 episodes on four discs:
* "Mild Mild West"
Murdoch, Julia, George, and Brackenreid are in the audience at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show when it's learned that a bullet catcher can't really catch a bullet between his teeth. Nicholas Campbell (DaVinci's Inquest) plays Buffalo Bill.
* "Snakes and Ladders"
"Try to stop me," is the message written in blood near a woman's body. Murdoch has to stop the killer -- who might be Jack the Ripper -- or else Julia could be the next victim. In the meantime, he and Julia must cope with something more fearsome: learning to dance in time for a gala.
* "Dinosaur Fever"
At a gala to unveil a dinosaur discovery, Murdoch and Julia see a man attack a fossilized bone just before a dead body is discovered. Turns out the man has been dead a while, although not millions of years.
* "Houdini Whodunit"
That's what Brackenreid thinks when a seemingly impregnable bank vault is robbed while the escape artist's show is going on next door, with Murdoch and Julia in the audience. Julia's sister -- who's Houdini's assistant -- believes otherwise. She also believes she'd like to know Murdoch better.
* "The Green Muse"
It looks like a judge is responsible for the murder of a prostitute, but he can't recall what happened, thanks to the absinthe he shared with the woman. Naturally, Murdoch and Julia have to try absinthe. They lose control -- as much as they can, at least.
* "Shades of Grey"
Murdoch's investigation of how a woman bled to death leads to an abortion doctor. Murdoch can't help looking into the relationship between Julia and the suspect.
* "Big Murderer on Campus"
A professor of physics is shot, but no one saw a shooter on the campus quad. Meanwhile, George, a foundling, decides to find his real mother.
* "I, Murdoch"
A math professor's death brings secret agents into the case. Meanwhile, a youngster says he saw a giant silver knight, and Murdoch investigates. The boy's widowed mom Enid is checking Murdoch out.
Murdoch takes a fall when chasing a subject, but he can't even get away from mysteries while recuperating at the boarding house. Meanwhile, George realizes that a parrot is the key witness to a restaurateur's murder.
The murder of a telegraph operator leads police to a "lothario" trolling the lines. Enid finds herself working with Murdoch, thanks to her Morse code skills, but his singlemindedness in pursuit of justice doesn't impress when she sees it up close.
* "Let Us Ask The Maiden"
The rabbi blames a death in his synagogue on a forbidden book, but Julia says it was arsenic poisoning. When the victim's beloved also shows symptoms of arsenic poisoning, Murdoch must find the source.
There's a nasty bite wound on the banker murdered on the full moon, sending George and a Native American tracker into the sewers in search of a wolf and a man, a wolfman, a lycanthropic madman, or a vengeance seeker. Murdoch will choose one later, but first, Enid is making him choose between her and Julia.
* "Anything You Can Do..."
Murdoch, his father, and a Mountie are in a standoff in a British Columbia mining town. This has something to do with the murder of a butterfly collector in Toronto, not to mention the murder of the butterfly. Flashbacks will explain everything, eventually.
I'll have to give Murdoch Mysteries points for making regular use of one of my favorite TV cliches: the shocking opening scene which leaves the puzzled heroes trying to figure out what happened. The answers can be gimmicky at times, especially with "I, Murdoch," in which the plot has spies and robots lurking about. It's usually not that strange, but the howdunits can get convoluted. Chances are you'll spot the identities of the killers early on, though.
Detective William Murdoch has a knack for seeing things others miss, a la Sherlock Holmes, and is often seen at the start of an episode experimenting with some weird gadget, such as night goggles, that will come in handy later in that episode. He's charming and unfailingly polite. Murdoch's strong sense of justice ultimately saves the day, but -- and this is hardly a surprise to TV detective fans -- his overly focused mind interferes with romance and interpersonal relationships.
Helene Joy's Dr. Julia Ogden makes an excellent foil for Murdoch. In short, she's someone who, when she turns down a date with Murdoch to check out the exhibition on new batteries, is pining, not just for Murdoch, but for the chance to see those batteries. Julia's interest in justice and her interpersonal difficulties mirror Murdoch's own. Joy plays her as an independent woman, with just enough natural shyness coming through to make the slow unfolding of her relationship with Murdoch sort of credible.
There's not much to report about Thomas Craig as Inspector Brackenreid and Jonny Miller as George Crabtree. Suffice it to say that, even with broad humor, they manage to play the coppers who can't keep up with Murdoch while coming across as people of normal intelligence, not complete idiots.
Murdoch Mysteries may take place a century ago, but it's a modern-looking show, with fast pacing and cuts, not to mention morgue scenes. I'm not sure, but I think some of those Victorian street scenes, particularly the ones with the sepia-toned look, are CGI. Murdoch's also got a handy habit of visualizing crime scenes so that viewers can follow along. These visualizations are also used as he works out his romantic dilemmas, to amusing effect. Old-fashioned Victrola music pops up at times, but there's also a pulse-pounding modern score.
The extras aren't bad, which suggests that Murdoch Mysteries has a following, even if it hasn't turned up anywhere in my vicinity. There's a behind-the-scenes short, with the actors talking about their characters. The characters also get text bios, accompanied by sound bites. A photo gallery slideshow is set to the theme music; it has captions with some detail, but a singleminded fan would probably want to know more about the sets and locations. You'll find filmographies and a list of the original novels as well.
There's also a PDF document with details on how they built some of the props for the show's first two seasons, just in case you'd like to create your own version of Murdoch's gadget-filled office at home. Even if you aren't that much of a Murdoch fan, you could find it an interesting peek at the way things are done in television.
"Shades of Grey" strays from the usual formula, leading to a debate between Murdoch and Julia on abortion that puts a strain on their relationship. As a source of tension in the otherwise light romantic comedy moments of Murdoch Mysteries, it seems forced.
By now, you may be thinking this William Murdoch reminds you a bit of Brisco County Jr. or Benton Fraser or...
Evidently, you've deduced that Murdoch Mysteries is familiar stuff. True, but Yannick Bisson and Helene Joy make an appealing, if improbably like-minded, couple, and the stories are enjoyable enough for powerwatching. The writers know it's familiar, and they lace it with enough cultural references, to things past and present, to satisfy Terry Pratchett. You don't have to get them all to enjoy the show, but it's a little more fun if you're well-read and well-watched.
Not guilty, enough so that William Murdoch might have invented a television so he could tune in.
Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 598 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery