Acorn Media // 2009 // 300 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 18th, 2011
A maverick Irish cop takes on the London Crime world.
In Series 4, undercover police officer Tommy Murphy (James Nesbitt, Jekyll) manages to work his way into the ranks of a major drug organization in the hopes of finding enough evidence to topple the whole enterprise and bring its leaders to justice. Meanwhile, Tommy also deals with the equally challenging personal task of aiding his Alzheimer's afflicted mother.
In Series 5, Tommy is tasked with finding two undercover police officers who have gone missing. As he digs through the clues, he uncovers a terrifying tangled web of drugs, smuggling, pornography and murder. Can he track down his associates before it's too late?
Holy moly. This isn't the Murphy's Law I remember. I had the opportunity to review the first series a while back, and while I dug Nesbitt's performance I found the show a bit lacking. The 90-minutes episodes were a bit too padded and the mixture of cynicism and light-hearted frivolity was kind of underwhelming. However, I wanted to give the show another look and see how things were faring later on. Murphy's Law: Series 4 and 5 (the final two seasons) feels like a completely different show, sending our protagonist down a much darker, more dramatically compelling path.
In some text notes included with this set, Nesbitt notes that he and the showrunners basically felt they had taken the initial idea of the series about as far as it could go. Influenced by some of the more critically acclaimed American cop dramas (the influence of The Wire and particularly The Shield can be strongly felt), it was determined that Murphy's Law would be restructured as a darker, grittier program spotlighting long-arc storytelling rather than episodic adventures. What this set delivers is an astonishing one-two punch of crime drama, presented in the form of two three-part series.
The program's title was initially presented as more of a comic frustration than anything else, but it takes on far more sinister shades in this case. When we catch up with Murphy, he's a troubled, battered man who's had just about enough of the undercover life. The latest mission is a particularly hellish assignment (it begins with Murphy getting beaten and held at gunpoint), and Murphy's overbearing personal life only adds to the strain. Over the course of these two brief, brutal seasons, we witness a portrait of a man having his soul stripped away piece by piece.
James Nesbitt is an actor I've developed a great deal of admiration for over time, and he's in peak form in this collection. Burying himself in the role and beautifully capturing both Murphy's crushed spirit and raging righteousness, Nesbitt delivers one searing scene after another. His work in the series finale is undoubtedly among his finest moments; such strong stuff that it almost becomes impossible to watch. While seeing the earlier seasons isn't a requirement for jumping into these two (each season is basically a self-contained miniseries), our memories of Murphy as a giddy, wisecracking tough guy add considerable resonance to the moments in which he is reduced to a hollowed-out shell of a man.
While I found this batch of Murphy's Law episodes vastly superior to the early stuff, fans of the first series may not like the unrelenting bleakness this collection has to offer. The series finale is possibly the darkest I've ever seen, concluding with an image of wrenching pain that will stick with you for quite a long time. That's not to say that the series lacks in entertainment (there's definitely a streak of dark humor running through the program), but this most assuredly isn't light viewing.
About the only negative thing I can say about Murphy's Law: Series 4 and 5 is that the transfer isn't too great. While the series has adopted a grainy, desaturated, shaky-cam look at times (one of the most explicit ways in which it seems eager to echo The Shield), the transfer itself still isn't entirely satisfying. The image looks rather flat at times and detail is significantly lacking. This looks no better than what you'd get on a standard-def television, basically. Audio is quite strong, however, with clean dialogue (though some viewers may have trouble with the thick accents) and an effectively grungy score. The only extras are text interviews with Nesbitt, which are worth reading.
Murphy's Law: Series 4 and 5 brings a program that started as a middling crime drama to a stunning conclusion. Over the course its run, the series transformed from engaging-yet-disposable programming to one of television's most impressive crime shows. Highly recommended.
Review content copyright © 2011 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Text Notes