Acorn Media // 2004 // 302 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // April 21st, 2010
A maverick Irish cop takes on the London crime world.
A well-respected and award-winning U.K. drama now finding an audience in North America through DVD release and airings on BBC America, Murphy's Law: Series 2 returns audiences to the world of undercover police, driven on the strength of the marvelous performance of actor James Nesbitt.
He might be the finest undercover officer in the force, but Irish cop Tommy Murphy (James Nesbitt, Jekyll) doesn't do quite so well in his own life. He can play any part, infiltrate any group, go deep undercover, and solve the toughest crimes, but his own life is something of a mess. He drinks too much, talks too much trash, and carries too many demons with him. His past is a dark and tumultuous place, and his work lets him forget -- at least until the assignment ends.
Murphy's Law: Series 2 contains all six episodes from the second series, spread across two discs:
* "Jack's Back"
A serial killer stalks the West End theater district preying on prostitutes in a manner reminiscent of Jack the Ripper. Murphy goes undercover as a homeless vagrant in a local shelter to catch the murderer.
* "Bent Moon On The Rise"
A young police officer commits suicide, setting off an investigation that assigns Murphy into a crack drug squad in the force. The team is wary of outsiders, but soon embraces Murphy as one of their own. Murphy soon learns the team is corrupt.
Murphy gets roped into a complex Interpol investigation involving an international ring of car smugglers. Passing himself off as a hotshot car thief, Murphy infiltrates the ring, but soon finds out his Interpol partner has an agenda all his own.
* "Go Ask Alice"
After the mysterious death of a young child, a mother goes on a crusade against a powerful biotech company, convinced they are complicit in the death. Murphy goes undercover as a janitor in the company to determine the truth.
Murphy goes undercover as a priest in a local convent, investigating the disappearance and death of two nuns. A young nun soon becomes the target of his attention and suspicion.
* "The Group"
After the shooting and slaying of an unarmed suspect, Murphy is brought under review and thrown off the force. Desperate, he turns to a psychiatrist, who put him in touch with a group of similarly grieved seeking solace against failures of the justice system. The group seem innocent at first, but harbor more sinister intentions.
Written and created by novelist Colin Bateman, Murphy's Law brings a certain well-polished narrative style to the small screen more suited for a crime novel than a television show. Each episode represents a new persona, identity, and situation for Murphy to infiltrate and win over the suspicious, which he does with effortless Irish charm. The premise, truth be told, is endlessly brilliant, a perpetual motion machine of dramatic narrative in which to kick out sixty minute bits of dramatic brilliance, again and again. It is no surprise that the BBC kicked out five award-winning series of the show with no signs of fatigue.
Written specifically for him, the role of Tommy Murphy is merely a vessel to show off exactly how good an actor James Nesbitt is. He is a fantastic performer with impressive range, affecting in Murphy a good-natured and disarming charm hiding a tortured and damaged psyche still reeling from personal tragedy. Without Nesbitt in the title role, there would be no show. Murphy acts tough, but is a frighteningly damaged soul barely holding himself together, work the only salvation he has. Every new character he plays, every role he affects is time he spends not being Tommy Murphy, and these are good moments. Once the job ends, he's back to being Murphy, with the alcohol and the haunting memories.
Series Two is an improvement over the first; some of the earlier episodes had pacing issues and excessive run times that hindered the narrative. A lean 60 minutes works best for Murphy's Law, and Nesbitt finds a more polished ease and wisecracking delivery in Murphy the second time around. There isn't a bad episode in the lot here, although "Convent" dances dangerously in the dullness department. Gritty and uncomfortably dark at times, the show is not fearful of treading into some twisted places, both in plot and in Murphy's own psyche. If you can forgive the occasional logical pothole along the way here and there, the pathos and passion of Nesbitt's performance more than make up for any shortcomings in narrative.
On paper, these are simple and time-tested ingredients. The storylines are well-written and endlessly twisting, but easy enough to predict. We've seen damaged characters on television before, and practically everything Murphy does in pursuit of justice would be absolutely ludicrous by North American standards -- entrapment at best, sending him straight to jail at worst. What I love most about this show is how no one would put it on TV in North America. It's just a little too dark, a little too gritty, its protagonist just a little too damaged. The ingredients may be common, but to my palate, dulled by years of uninspired American television drama, Murphy's Law tastes delicious and fresh.
Presented in an anamorphic transfer, the picture is good, but not quite as crisp as one might hope for. The image is clean and for the most part solid, but colors get strangely saturated at times and the overall detail is too soft for modern HDTV standards. It lends the show a certain aesthetic style, a gritty realism that feels more accidental than deliberate. Audio comes in a simple stereo presentation and gets the job done; the mix is lively enough with decent bass response and dialogue is clear throughout. English SDH subtitles are a welcome addition, if only to decipher the quick-tongued Murphy and his rapid-fire cheerful chappie quipping.
Extras are slim, but an improvement over the zero of the previous series. This time we get a biography of James Nesbitt. That's it.
Okay, I realize Murphy has a weakness for the ladies. Still, come on...every time? In every episode? Each time he steps outside, Murphy falls for exactly the wrong lady -- always involved in his investigation -- and his relationship always complicates the issue. Once in a while makes for some decent character development and nuance, but every single bloody time feels lazy and repetitive.
Fresh and fun, every measurable element of Murphy's Law is a winner. It's hard to decide which is best: the complex and twisting storylines, the marvelous acting by Nesbitt, or the surprisingly nuanced character development. It's definitely worth a look for those tired of the same old American clichéd cop and robber shows.
Review content copyright © 2010 Adam Arseneau; 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: 302 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated