Judge Gordon Sullivan is a fancy crime fighter.
Our review of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Series 1, published March 20th, 2013, is also available.
Miss Phryne Fisher is back…
Generally speaking, there are two poles to the mystery genre: the mystery and the investigator. Obviously every story needs both, but many stories focus on one other the other. There are those mysteries that focus on the crime, the method of detection, and catching the killer. On the other side are those mysteries that focus on the person doing the detecting. The former tend to be thrillers, while the latter lean towards the dramatic. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, as its title implies, focuses on its main character. Though she gets herself involved in many an investigation, these 13 episodes are just as invested in her life as the mysteries she investigates. In a crowded field of mystery offerings, that's a good thing.
Facts of the Case
Phryne (pronounced fry-knee) Fisher (Essie Davis, Girl with a Pearl Earring) is an independently wealthy private detective in Australia in the late 1920s. Throughout these 13 episodes she engages in a number of sleuthing activities in tension (and in concert) with the local police detective Jack Robinson (Nathan Page, Underbelly).
The first series of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries went a long way towards establishing Phryne and her world. Phryne herself is open-minded, kind, and fiercely intelligent, taking no guff from anyone. Her opposite number in the police is Jack Robinson, who's obviously smitten with her. Then there's her "companion" dot, who has a romantic relationship with another copper, the orphan she's taken in, her drivers, her butler (Mr. Butler, appropriately enough), her aunt Prudence, and confidante doctor, Mac.
This coterie of lovable characters goes a long way towards making Miss Fisher as watchable as it is. Though Phryne (and to a lesser extent Jack) acts as the show's center, the show really exists as an excuse to explore Phyrne's world. Yes there are murders and thefts and political intrigue, but the investigation of these problems exists as much to give us an excuse to hang out with Phryne as it does to scratch any detecting itch. There's a generosity of spirit that the show shares with its protagonist, a live-and-let-live attitude that's willing to forgive a whole host of foibles as long as basic decency is preserved.
That generosity keeps the show fresh, as does its focus on Phryne's progressive tendencies. Though Phryne herself doesn't feel like an anachronism, the fact that she is committed to equality between the sexes, against racial and economic exploitation, and sexually liberated makes her a bit different from the sometimes-stuffy confines of the historical detective genre. And all of this despite the ever-present backdrop of the horrors of World War I.
This second series also does an admirable job building on the strengths of the first series. With Phyrne and her companions firmly established, these episodes can explore their relationships. Obviously the most central one is between Phyrne and Jack (which does the Moonlighting will-they/won't-they thing admirably), but the Collins/Dot romance doesn't fall by the wayside. Having such a large and diverse cast of characters means they get to pop up at various times to push both their characters and the plot forward.
Acorn Media offers up another decent Blu-ray release. Though generally I'm against interlaced transfers, this 1.78:1/1080i AVC-encoded transfer is the perfect example of it being done well. The show doesn't feature a lot of fast motion, so there aren't any interlacing artifacts to trouble the picture. Instead, we get a clean, bright picture with plenty of detail on the period costumes and set. Colors are appropriately saturated, and black levels stay consistent and deep. The show's DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio track keeps dialogue clear and well-balanced. Subtitles are included for those who have trouble with the Aussie accents.
Extras include a complement of featurettes familiar to viewers of the first series. There's a short set of promos and a "Seasons Greetings," along with a photo gallery. The most substantial extra is 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes clips.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries isn't aiming for gritty or even particularly realistic. Though the show isn't afraid to bring up numerous "dark" elements—aside from the obvious murders and other crimes there is the ever-present specter of World War I, and the show isn't afraid of connecting those individual moments to larger social problems like sexism or class injustice—it's still not a show that focuses on the minutiae of detecting or the realities of police work in 1929. The show also has a definite formula, with Phyrne getting involved in some exotic activity or locale (like a local rally car race or the near-by medical college) before somebody ends up dead. Usually there's a cover-up, something is also stolen, and then Phyrne swoops into both rescue someone and solve the mystery. It works more often than not, but those looking for a more nuanced or realistic approach to detection should look elsewhere.
The show's progressive side might rub some viewers the wrong way. Phyrne isn't afraid to satisfy her sexual appetites (though nothing really explicit is shown), and she has a different guy in her bed just about every episode. Though the show isn't afraid to feature the other side (Dot doesn't go that far with Constable Collins, for instance), it's liberal depiction of Phyrne won't appeal to all viewers. The show is also completely unwilling to condemn adults for consensual relationships, so a number of gay and lesbian characters appear, and the show is fine granting them equality and access to their desires.
As of this writing, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is an enormously popular show, but one that's on hiatus as it's producers have a number of similarly successful shows to produce. That means Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries: Series 2 is likely to be the last we see of Phyrne for at least a couple of years. Luckily, these 13 episodes are solid, building on the strengths of the previous season and developing the relationships in fun and surprising ways. This three disc sets gives fans a chance to revisit the series with a handful of decent extras, while we await more of Miss Fisher's mysteries.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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