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Case Number 17180: Small Claims Court

Buy Murphy's Law: Series One at Amazon

Murphy's Law: Series One

Acorn Media // 2001 // 443 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 3rd, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas eagerly awaits the optimistic spin-off, Yhprum's Law.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Murphy's Law (published February 19th, 2003), Murphy's Law: Series Four and Five (published August 18th, 2011), Murphy's Law: Series Three (published March 7th, 2011), and Murphy's Law: Series Two (published April 21st, 2010) are also available.

The Charge

Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

The Case

Murphy's Law: Series 1 is a collection of British television with a very odd history. The pilot for the series was aired in 2001. It tells the story of Detective Sergeant Tommy Murphy (James Nesbitt, Cold Feet), an Irish cop who likes drinking, fighting, wisecracking, and generally behaving like a standard-issue cool-as-nails crime thriller protagonist. Tommy has few friends and many enemies, but his quick-witted thinking and bullish bravado often get him through a wide variety of sticky situations. The 90-minute pilot was a smash success, leading to a 4-episode first series that aired in 2003. These episodes are also 90 minutes long, and each one tells a stand-alone story. All five of these Murphy's Law installments are collected in this set, which feels a good deal more like a collection of made-for-TV movies than a television series. The five episodes are spread across three discs.

Disc One
• Pilot: Murphy infiltrates a gang of thieves and attempts to bring them down from the inside out.

• "Electric Bill": Murphy goes undercover once again, but this time he finds himself pretending to be a prisoner in an attempt to get information on a serial killer.

Disc Two
• "Kiss and Tell": Murphy's latest investigation of a money laundering ring leads him to a sports center where all sorts of illicit sexual activities are taking place.

• "Manic Munday": Murphy investigates a world-renowned snooker player who is being blackmailed into rigging matches of the game.

Disc Three
• "Reunion": A quiet but bloody war seems to be taking place between local club owners, and it's up to Murphy to find the cause of the nasty conflict.

Murphy's Law was initially created as a vehicle designed to play to the strengths of actor James Nesbitt. He had won great success on the popular Cold Feet, and the folks at the BBC thought it would be a good idea to put a similarly charismatic Nesbitt character into the middle of a hard-edged crime thriller setting. It's said that the series is based on a collection of books by author Colin Bateman, but that isn't entirely true. You see, Bateman wrote a novelization of the pilot after the pilot became a smash success, then he was hired as the primary writer on the program for three seasons, and after that his literary interpretation of the character guided future episodes. So, it's a bit difficult to tell where one ends and one begins.

While seasons two through five of Murphy's Law offered hour-long episodes, for some reason every episode in this first series runs a solid 90 minutes. Personally, I think that's rather unfortunate, because a common problem among all of the installments included in this set is that they run too long. There are aimless, rambling stretches in each one that could have been snipped rather painlessly. Too much of the material feels like tedious filler, which is a particularly bad thing when you're attempting to create any sort of tension in a crime drama. That's not the only problem, though…I'm also rather unimpressed by the manner in which this program attempts to fuse wacky comedy with the supposedly "gritty" tone. The shootouts, blood, and back-stabbing might have been a bit more effective if they weren't following scenes of ridiculous slapstick.

While some of the episodes manage to be reasonably engaging outings ("Kiss and Tell" is quite fun and "Electric Bill" is a pretty involving mystery), I'm somewhat surprised that Murphy's Law was even greenlit in the first place given the wheezy unoriginality of the pilot. It's a very old-hat crime story in which a good guy infiltrates the bad guys, falls for the top dog's girl, and eventually confronts the group he has infiltrated. La-dee-da. As I said, the episodes that follow are a bit better, but not by a whole lot. The only reason to watch the show is to see Nesbitt's performance, which is indeed appealing enough to make things considerably more watchable than they ought to be.

The transfer is perfectly adequate, though this show is very flat visually. I really do love the wide array of British programming released by Acorn Media (a very fine company, without a doubt), but many of these BBC releases seem to be slightly below the standard of most modern American television sets. The footage here seems just a bit too dirty at times, though the level of detail is solid. Audio is okay, but good gracious, what an awful score this program has. It's dominated by a stereotypical Irish thematic idea remixed as a near-unlistenable techno piece. Poor taste continues to be a theme throughout most of the scoring…just consider the "Chopsticks"-style techno piece that appears when some Japanese businessmen appear. No supplements have been included with this box set.

From what I understand, Murphy's Law was a show that got better as it progressed. I hope that's the case, because I really can't recommend the first series to the average viewer. Additionally, I'll note that the $60 retail price (Amazon is currently selling it for about $42) seems a bit high for 7 hours of television with absolutely no extras included.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: Acorn Media
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 443 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Crime
• Drama
• Foreign
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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