“Midsomer Murders” and the Addicting Nature of British Mysteries

I have only seen five or six episodes of the hit British mystery series Midsomer Murders, but it is safe to say that I am hooked (some people have their addictions to Doctor Who, but for me, it’s this show). I have always been a fan of British Mysteries, preferring them to nearly every other American detective series, with the exception of my all-time favorite show, Law & Order, which no longer airs. There is just something about these shows that make them far superior to something that anyone else in the world could produce. My first taste of them came via the multiple Sherlock Holmes series’ of the 1980’s, which starred Jeremy Brett. I guess I was drawn to it because the format and pacing of the episodes were  so different from what we have in America. Everything is much slower, and much darker, and that seems to extend to all their different shows. Since first viewing them when I was little, I then found a few more interesting titles on PBS Masterpiece Mystery, which samples many shows that are popular over in England. My latest find has been Midsomer Murders, and yes, they are even more addicting than anything else I have ever watched.

There is no doubt that the British are the masters of mysteries. Just go into any Barnes & Noble or video store and look in the mystery section—90% of them are British, and have probably been featured on PBS at one time or another. While many may find the slow pacing to be annoying, I think that it only adds to the atmosphere and lifestyle that they have over in England. We may speak the same language and think of ourselves as being the same, but they live quite differently across the pond, not to say that either of our lifestyles is better or worse than the other. While Midsomer Murders and shows like them are entertainment and fictional, the lifestyle displayed in the background story is indicative at just how different we are. The air is more relaxed (the people either have no stress or manage it differently), people seem to trust complete strangers more (a certain honor amongst men), and of course, what would a day in the life be like without a spot of tea in the afternoon? Part of me wishes I could just go over to one of those small towns and live there for a few weeks. I admit, I would probably be itching to come back here after a while, but a break from this country would do any man a bit of good.

Though Midsomer is a fictional county in England, the locations they use are quite real, and has the cast traveling all over the country to find the perfect places to film. This adds to the realism, because there are no cheap sets; just real houses, restaurants, business, and the like, not to mention the extras that are always drawn into the investigation. The only way I can say this is that the producers of these English shows always seem to find “real” people for the smaller roles, and by real, I mean genuine. Here in America, every woman must be beautiful and every man must be handsome and muscular. Any other body type would result in a drop in ratings. Not to insult the show, because I am arguing for quite the contrary, the use of people who may not be the most chiseled in the world does wonders for the realistic nature of the program, because not all of us have the good fortune of looking like a supermodel.

The series, now in its 15th season, has a new cast than the one I have watched. All episodes I have seen, as few as they are, have been from the first 13 or 14 years, with John Nettles as Detective Chief Inspector Barnaby, paired with either Daniel Casey or Jason Hughes (my personal favorite of the two) as the younger Detective Sergeant. Nettles is utterly spectacular in his role because of his believability, and his emotions always seem sincere and genuine. He also has a touch of dry humor that livens up every episode. These three, along with the supporting cast, that includes Jane Wymark as Barnaby’s wife, is one of the best assembled casts on the mystery circuit, and deserves all of the high praise they have gotten in England, as well as here in the U.S, where popularity of this show finally seems to be growing.

Over the years, Midsomer Murders has been called the British suburbia answer to America’s Law & Order, and while I cannot necessarily agree with that, because the two really are not comparable, I will say that the writers of both never cease to amaze with the way people die, or the way bodies are found. That, and the unending amount of creative storylines they come up with season after season. While L & O gave equal treatment to both sides of the justice system, Midsomer only focuses on the detective part. Another way they differ is the actual structure of the episodes and seasons. Midsomer’s episodes run a staggering one hour and forty minutes (without commercials), and tend to only have three to five episodes in a season. They have filmed 81 up to this point, as will continue with the premiere of season 15 tonight. So, if you consider the running time of these episodes, you could very well say that these writers have accounted for 81 movies over the last 15 years, not just merely episodes. To me, that is a stat that blows my mind.

Lastly, I also want to make mention of something else in the show’s creativity, and that is how some of the episodes I have seen bring in the paranormal to the investigations and stories. Season four featured supposed alien visitations and crop circles for “The Electric Vendetta”, and the last episode I saw, which was yesterday on DVD, “Beyond the Grave”,  involved a haunted museum that actually ended up being truly haunted in the end, though the ghosts were not responsible for the murders. Even though the paranormal is not a frequent catalyst for the show, it is definitely a treat to see it pop up on occasion, and really adds to the mystery.

So, to wrap this up, if you are a fan of mystery shows, I strongly recommend Midsomer Murders. If you are not used to British mysteries, then this will be a nice change of pace for you. Everything in the production value is so high, from the scripts to the shooting locations and casts (they even have a killer theme song, no pun intended). It all adds up to become one of the best, most addicting shows on television, and thankfully, you can catch up on all missed episodes through their various DVD sets, which are available on Netflix. Given the fact that I am like 75 episodes behind, there is no time to waste! Catch you all later!

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Gettysbuff says:

    Glad to see your apparent admiration for all things British there, Greg. Having been to England myself i can tell you that i think you would definitely love the place and its tea-drinking culture (although not EVERYONE drinks the stuff). The fact that you would get homesick eventually is natural and i don’t think it would mean that there is anything bad about the country or anything better about ours.

    Being familiar with Midsomer myself although only with the earlier Nettles ones, i only had one problem with the show. It is a little far fetched that all these people keep dying in the same tiny village, because eventually there wouldn’t be anyone there left to kill! The british press, etc made references to that at the time, but it was all in good fun. As i said i haven’t seen it for a long time so i don’t know if the format has changed or not?

    1. Well, the only episodes I have seen were from earlier years, so I don’t know if the format has changed. What you say reminds me of “Murder, She Wrote”. Eventually, they had to make J.B Fletcher travel around the country to solve crimes because too many people were dying in little Cabot Cove, Maine.

      As for tea, I try to drink a cup a day, more for the antioxidants and all its healthful benefits. I can’t help but have a spot every time I watch this show. 🙂

      1. Gettysbuff says:

        A ‘spot’, eh? Now you sound TOTALLY british!

    2. It isn’t one tiny village; the fictional Midsomer is a county full of many towns and villages. I’m a big fan too 🙂

  2. John Kennedy says:

    If you like British Television mysteries, some of my favorites are Foyle’s War and A Touch of Frost.

    1. Yes, I’ve seen them on IMDB and their ratings are through the roof. I wish I had the time to sit down and watch all of these. Perhaps over the summer I will give Frost a chance. That looks great!

  3. Jeremy Brett was a very masterly Holmes. Have you read the book “Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes” by David Stuart Davies.

    This book is a recommended read for fans of Jeremy Brett.


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