Inspector Barnaby investigates murder mysteries in Middle England. Based on the novels by Caroline Graham. Includes 'The Dagger Club,' 'Murder By Magic,' 'The Ballad of Midsomer,' and 'A Vintage Murder.' Starring Neil Dudgeon and Gwilym Lee.
'Midsomer Murders' just hasn't been the same since the affable DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon) replaced his more cantankerous cousin DCI Tom Barnaby (John Nettles). John Barnaby's laissez faire attitude toward the murder epidemic that plagues the greater Midsomer area is slightly frustrating. He never gets mad enough to be interesting or believable, and one does wonder how he seems so content investigating so many horrendous murders.
Not only that, but 'Midsomer Murders' certainly has its formula. I suspect that people love the show because they can watch it while trying to figure out the mystery all the while knowing exactly how it will play out.
We always begin with a murder. From there we move on to the collection of nefarious characters populating the town or village. Usually, the murder feeds into some sort of collective conspiracy involving many small-town key players. A few red herrings are thrown around as the episode slogs through the required beats. John Barnaby usually has a Dr. House-like insight where the mystery suddenly crystalizes inside his mind, his eyes get wide, and he's figured it out. Finally, Barnaby must confront the guilty party, usually in front of the entire town, and explain the mystery just in case we missed something along the way. The confronted guilty party is much too eager to confess, because they aren't thinking like normal people. They're thinking like people stuck in a murder mystery and their sole purpose is to exist within the confines of formula.
One has to wonder what they're putting in the water in Midsomer. The murder rate for this fictional rural township is astronomically high. Contained within the greater Midsomer area are 69 towns, villages, hamlets, and out of the way communities that harbor the greatest concentration of murderous psychopaths in the U.K.
The four episodes in the show's 17th series feature a wide variety of murders. There's the murders that suspiciously mirror those found in the mystery novels of a famous local – but recently deceased – author in "The Dagger Club"; there's the occult murders and illusionary misdeeds in "Murder by Magic"; there's the improbable homicidal lyricist in "The Ballad of Midsomer County"; and finally we have a mysterious poisoning at a wine tasting event in "A Vintage Murder."
Each episode has its theme and usually, to a fault, it follows that theme right the way through even when it doesn't make much sense by the end.
Like 'CSI' or any of the permeations of 'Law and Order,' 'Midsomer Murders' while breezier in its approach to countless homicides, provides a turn-your-brain-off mystery that could possibly provide entertainment during a lazy afternoon. It's familiar and never deviates too far from its expected method or eventual outcome. It just isn't as engaging as other UK procedurals like 'George Gently' for example. 'Midsomer Murders' is all about crafting an improbable mystery, whereas 'George Gently' uses its murders to explore complicated social issues.
'Midsomer Murders' is what it is. It's never aspired to be anything more than an easily digestible detective show with little in the way of actual character development, stakes, or real social commentary. It's simple, and therein lies the reason it's been around so long. It doesn't require much of its viewer, and in turn its viewer's don't require much of it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Acorn has provided a 2-disc set, with both discs being 50GB Blu-rays. Each disc has two episodes that are roughly 90 minutes each. A slipcover is included which matches other 'Midsomer Murders' slipcovers that have come before.
The video presentation closely mirrors that of the last release. It features the same strengths and portrays the same weaknesses. In sets past the video has been given 1080i transfers. With Set 24, and now this release, 'Midsomer Murders' has been upgraded to 1080p.
When the sun is up the detail and colors of the Midsomer countryside are wonderfully rendered. It doesn't matter if the shot is a close-up or a long-range shot of rolling English hills, the detail is superb. Green is the dominate color, along with earthy tones, and they're presented vividly.
Darker scenes feature some banding, crushing, and a little noise here and there. Black areas tend to gobble up details rather than define them. Delineation is middling at the best of times. Shadows are just too overbearing whenever nighttime falls upon Midsomer. Moments of aliasing are also visible from time to time. While the presentation looks great in the day, it doesn't look as great at night.
Like many of Acorn's releases 'Midsomer Murders' is sans surround sound. Instead we have a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that has trouble balancing dialogue with music and sound effects.
Dialogue is quite well defined most of the time. Directionality with the two front channels works well when voices are coming from different sides of the frame. However, there are times where sound effects are much louder than one would expect given the steady volume of the show's dialogue. The crashing of the illusionist's magic box at the beginning of the second episode is ear-splittingly loud. There are other times where these sorts of brash sound effects jump out of the sound design unexpectedly and unbalanced with the rest of the track.
There's not much else to say about this mix. For the most part it does its job and produces clear dialogue and mellow musical cues. Those sound effects though, they feel like they're mixed too loud given the default volume of the rest of the mix.
"Murder by Magic"—The Actors (HD, 9 min.) – Director Charlie Palmer talks about casting, plus interviews from various actors that are in the second episode.
"Murder by Magic"—The Tricks (HD, 7 min.) – A quick look at some of the notable illusions used in the show.
Behind the Scenes (HD, 10 min.) – Shot during the production of "The Ballad of Midsomer County," this is another round of interviews from various cast and crew.
'Midsomer Murders' plods along, perfectly content with its color-by-numbers approach to murder mysteries. That's fine, if you're into that sort of thing. It's a show for a lazy day. Something that doesn't require the viewer to think much. For me, 'Midsomer Murders' has grown weary. I have a hard time sticking with the episode plots since the dramatic beats are helplessly telegraphed. With so-so video and a workmanlike audio presentation, this is really for fans only.