Appellate Judge James A. Stewart would gladly live in 1890s Toronto, if William Murdoch would invent the DVD.
Our reviews of Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 (Blu-ray) (published May 3rd, 2011), Murdoch Mysteries: Season 4 (published May 10th, 2012), and Murdoch Mysteries: Season 5 (published February 21st, 2013) are also available.
"Who knew a dinosaur had just become a celebrity?"
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?
Facts of the Case
Murdoch Mysteries: Season 2 features 13 episodes on four discs:
• "Snakes and Ladders"
• "Dinosaur Fever"
• "Houdini Whodunit"
• "Shades of Grey"
• "Big Murderer on Campus"
• "Anything You Can Do…"
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.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"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.
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