Thursday, February 24, 2011

Midsomer Murdered

TV crime drama covers a range of styles

A few weeks ago, a Midsomer Murders landmark occurred when John Nettles' final episode as DCI Tom Barnaby was broadcast, after 81 episodes spread over 14 years.  In that time, Barnaby has solved several hundred murders in a lavish and popular series which has featured just about every character actor in Equity. 

Fans of the show need not fear that Barnaby's departure signals the end of their pleasures, though: a relative, DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) has arrived to take his place.  Good news for everyone!

Err, not quite.  Thirty years of formal and informal study of the narrative art-forms have equipped me with a formidable critical vocabulary and so I am able to arrive at the mot juste for Midsomer Murders: shite. 

For those of a more elevated sensibility, I can expand: Midsomer Murders is simply egregious--smug, unengaging, patronising.  The murders have all the emotional impact of a visit to Waitrose (the natural habitat of the MM-watcher).  Lazy, vapid and repetitious, the show could with dignity have ended with Nettles' retirement.  Instead, a new cash-cow is sent to the farm.
Self-Satisfied Buffoonery
Midsomer Murders works within a "cosy crime" tradition which, to declare a prejudice, I don't find very interesting.  But it can be done much better than this; I'd love to see a TV adaptation of LC Tyler's Ethelred and Elsie novels, and David Suchet plays the preposterous Poirot with such brio that the viewer is charmed. 

Midsomer Murders has little of Suchet's straight-faced conviction and none of Tyler's sardonic wit.  It smacks of Thursday afternoon amateur dramatics at the village hall, an environment which no doubt has provided at least one interminable plot for the great detective.

It's bad karma to thunder ex cathedra from my blog pulpit (to mangle my religions a touch) without doling out some more approbatory sentiments, and with this in mind I can recommend, in the strongest terms, BBC Four's outstanding crime drama The Killing.  Stuck away in the middle of the night on a channel nobody watches, this Danish exploration of a young woman's murder has everything Midsomer Murders lacks. 
Subtle, nuanced and good as The Wire?

The emotional impact of the crime is truly harrowing, and the performances of Bjarne Henriksen and Ann Eleonora Jorgensen as the bereaved parents are heartbreaking.  The programme's one cliche is the mismatched detective duo (Sofie Grabol and and Soren Malling) and even this is done with some charm.  Grabol, in particular, is extraordinary.  The way the show weaves in contemporary political themes draws comparison with The Wire--a comparison which does not embarrass the Danish show.

Embarrassment should more properly be directed at the thought that Midsomer Murders is broadcast in 38 countries--including, humiliatingly, Denmark.  If you've overlooked The Killing (which, unless you're an insomniac, is very likely), it's out on DVD in April.  Don't miss it!


C. N. Nevets said...

I was a little intrigued the first time I saw an an episode of MM. I was less intrigued the second time. The third time, I said, "So it's just always like this?" and turned it off without finishing.

Tim Stretton said...

You give us The Wire; we give you Midsomer Murders.

They say fair exchange is no robbery...

Unknown said...

I blooming love The Killing! It's the only TV programme I'm watching. Awesome.

Tim Stretton said...

Can't understand why its squirrelled away in the arse end of nowhere on the schedules - are subtitles really such a ratings-killer?

Two episodes on the planner tonight and I'm up to date.

Did you know there's another two series (one still in production)?

Unknown said...

Tim, you're being unfair to Waitrose, AGAIN.

Tim Stretton said...

I do actually shop there myself, bit it's certainly MM country...