Appellate Judge James A. Stewart isn't visiting Midsomer anytime soon. He wants to live to see the Eleventh Inspector Barnaby.
Our reviews of Midsomer Murders: Barnaby's Top 10 (published September 24th, 2011), Midsomer Murders: Series 1 (published July 15th, 2013), Midsomer Murders: Set 13 (published September 10th, 2009), Midsomer Murders: Set 14 (published February 10th, 2010), Midsomer Murders: Set 15 (published May 19th, 2010), Midsomer Murders: Set 16 (published September 22nd, 2010), Midsomer Murders: Set 17 (published January 27th, 2011), Midsomer Murders: Set 18 (published September 24th, 2011), Midsomer Murders: Set 19 (Blu-ray) (published February 20th, 2012), Midsomer Murders: Set 21 (published December 26th, 2012), and Midsomer Murders: Set 22 (published August 4th, 2013) are also available.
"I wanted to get away from this inbred little scandal hole where everybody knows everybody else—or think they do."
Those are the words of a murder suspect, but by the last entry in Midsomer Murders: Set 20, Inspector Tom Barnaby will be escaping Midsomer County, retiring just in time to hand the job—and the phone—to cousin John Barnaby.
Before he goes, he'll deal with the strangest murder motive yet in "Master Class," reminisce over Charles Dickens' one-time visit to Midsomer in "The Noble Art," unravel a case that involves death by sliding door and a live burial in cement in "Not in My Back Yard," and solve an impalement by exercise machine in "Fit for Murder." If you're counting, Set 20 adds ten murders to Midsomer's death toll.
All of this leaves one question: If I ever get the nerve to watch a Dario Argento picture, how much worse can it be than Midsomer Murders?
Facts of the Case
Midsomer Murders: Set 20 sends The First Inspector Barnaby (John Nettles, The Hound of the Baskervilles) on his last four cases, each on its own disc:
• "Master Class<"—a talented music student has a vision of
murder soon after arriving in midsomer county. naturally, joyce barnaby (jane
wymark, Poldark) has befriended the young woman, and Tom realizes that
she's seeing a case he was on—and couldn't solve—long ago.
• "The Noble Art"—With the boxing "champion of the world"
hailing from Midsomer Morchard, it's an opportunity to commemmorate the first
world boxing championship, held in 1860 in—you guessed it—Midsomer
Morchard. A brawl and a couple of corpses should honor the event nicely. Camille
Coduri (Doctor Who) guests.
• "Not in My Back Yard"—It's "Midsomer Open House and
Garden Day," and there's nothing better to show off the county's fine homes than
an angry disturbance over an "eyesore" domicile, followed by the discovery of a
dead body and controversy over a housing development. '60s TV fans should look
for someone walking through in No. 6's jacket and listen for a reference to The Avengers.
• "Fit for Murder"—With a physical and a birthday coming up
for Tom, Joyce decides he needs a spa trip. Joyce finds a dead body, just as Tom
is trying to escape a hot volcanic stone massage. Still, he can't escape
memories of his late father, even by trying meditation. The Second Inspector
Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon, The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries) steps in at episode's
end, and Laura Howard (Covington Cross) returns as Tom's daughter
Even a piano audition in Midsomer County involves blood spattering around. It turns out to be the worst nosebleed ever, with lots of the fake red stuff. "Master Class," which opens with that gratuitously gruesome musical moment, sets the tone for the set very well, even though there's one thing wrong: there just isn't a murder, at least a fresh one, until nearly the hour mark. From there, things get violent pretty quickly, though. You might notice, because there's plenty of sinister machinating as the music students and their parents plot to win the master class—and a shot at classical music fame. Watching the various guest stars go through their nasty paces is, of course, the fun at the heart of the show, and the paces here are some of the nastiest. It's definitely one of the most memorable of Tom Barnaby's cases.
John Nettles' final episode finds Tom Barnaby considering his own mortality, recalling his father's lonely death on a fishing trip. The stress is causing him psychosomatic illness, and he's generally more moody than usual. There's enough of a dramatic undercurrent that I suspect that at least a few British viewers feared that Tom Barnaby would end up leaving Midsomer County in a pine box. At the same time, he gets to do the usual comic relief stuff you'd expect from such a story, like sneaking out for some pub grub and beer (all in the name of investigation, of course). Of course, Tom survives till episode's end, with a last scene that's amusing rather than sentimental.
These cases are recent, so production values are high. That's particularly noticeable with "Fit for Murder" and its beautiful spa setting. There are bonus features on John Nettles' last set, but only barely. There's a photo gallery set to the show's theme and a text feature on viewers' memories of the show.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Sometimes, Midsomer Murders can get downright creepy. In addition to some bizarre murders, there's a case of incest and a man left for dead, covered in gore. If you don't enjoy a good freaked-out nervous laugh now and again, this show probably isn't for you.
Since Joyce Barnaby is very good at befriending potential murder victims and stumbling on bodies, one can't exactly picture the Barnabys retiring peacefully; I just hope I never run into them. Just the same, Midsomer Murders: Set 20 sees them off well. It's a must-see for fans, but anyone who likes the downright strange will also enjoy this set.
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