MIDSOMER MURDERS: SET 22
MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: *1/2 (out of 5)
Neil Dudgeon as JOHN BARNABY
Jason Hughes as BEN JONES
Tamzin Malleson as DR. KATE WILDING
Fiona Dolman as SARAH BARNABY
BY KEVIN CARR
The TV situation in my house growing up was in many ways quite grim. My father was not a fan of television, and he watched very few programs. Consequently, he refused to pay premium prices for cable, leaving us with only four stations: channel 4 (NBC), channel 6 (ABC), channel 10 (CBS) and channel 34 (PBS). (We didn’t even get an independent station to round out the dial until the mid-80s when channel 28 emerged and quickly started airing the FOX network.)
So as children, we were left with severely limited television options, and that resulted in me watching a lot of PBS with my mother. Here’s where I developed a fondness not just for British comedy (with shows like “Dave Allen at Large” and “Faulty Towers,” later tuning into the more adult shows like “Monty Python” and “’Allo ‘Allo”), but also British dramas. One of my mother’s favorite types of shows were the British mysteries.
British-produced murder mysteries on television have grown and developed over the years, leaving behind mostly substandard production values and limited set pieces, but they still have the same flavor to this day. Some British programming has eased into a more modern, slick and edgy style, which can be seen in everything from the modern “Doctor Who” to the gritty “Luther.”
A show like “Midsomer Murders” reminds us that British detective shows can still be quaint while allowing for some twisted violence behind their picturesque cottages.
The 22nd set of “Midsomer Murders” comes to DVD and Blu-ray with four hour-and-a-half movies. Racking up a body count that would leave Jessica Fletcher breathless, “Midsomer Murders” has been around for decades, and it retains the charm of the old British murder mysteries I’d watch with my mother on PBS.
The first of the 22nd “Midsomer Murders” is “The Sleeper Under the Hill,” which features an investigation of a group of druids living in Midsomer Mow. The second is “The Night of the Stag,” arguably the most dark and twisted of the bunch, in which a government inspector is found in a vat of beer, leading to the uncovering of some very dark secrets in the town.
The third movie is “A Sacred Trust,” which takes the inspectors to a convent where one of the nuns has been murdered, and everyone is a suspect. Finally, “A Rare Bird” takes a different pace by laying out the suspects fifteen minutes before the murder, in which a local group of bird watchers find themselves embroiled in violence and infidelity.
The real charm of “Midsomer Murders” is the location. Sure, at some point, I kept expecting Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to show up decked out in their “Hot Fuzz” gear, and that’s part of the fun. It’s a quaint area of England that should be the most peaceful place in the world. However, people just keep dying. It’s not Cabot Cove, but the aforementioned Jessica Fletcher would have a field day here.
Carrying the series are the two detectives, Neil Dudgeon and Jason Hughes in this era of the show. Dudgeon plays the elder Detective Barnaby, whose overly polite manner and British charm let him inspect some of the more unpleasant events of the area and still feel warm and fuzzy about it. Jason Hughes plays the younger detective Jones, who is rough around the edges but manages to keep up with his senior and not look the fool.
The mysteries in this series are less whodunits and more about the procedure. However, taking place outside of the noisy urban environment, the viewer feels more comfortable. It’s hard to pull off the charm of a small town with hideous murders taking place and still have the viewer hope for a vacation there.
“Midsomer Murders” isn’t the kind of series that will win converts immediately or tear the younger generation from the more fast-paced dramas on BBC America. However, it provides a nostalgic diversion to bigger shows, and for a big dumb American like myself, it offers a level of PBS nostalgia from the days before I had to pay rent and taxes.
The four-disc DVD set comes with each movie on a separate disc, as well as the 34-minute “In Conversation” look at the series on Disc 1.