Acorn Media started with the third season when it first brought 'Murdoch Mysteries' to Blu-ray. Now they've come full circle, like many of their other series, and have started at the beginning. I'm thrilled with this, because I enjoyed the show even though I'd never watched it before. I was thrust straight into the third season, but with it being a somewhat formulaic police procedural, it was pretty easy to catch onto what was happening. Still, with any TV show it's always nice to start at the beginning and that's what we get to do here.
'Murdoch Mysteries,' for those of you that don't know, is sort of a 'CSI' type show, but with a twist. All of the crimes happen before the turn of the century. The show finds itself set at the tail-end of the 1800s. Forensic science is just getting off the ground and Detective William Murdoch embraces each and every bit of scientific improvement in sleuthing.
The show is set in Canada and follows the varied cases of Murdoch as he solves crimes using what we'd view as very primitive techniques. Murdoch does have the advantage of having a very Sherlock-like brain, where he uses deductive reasoning as his main mode of solving crimes. Even so, there are still crimes that require different methods of criminal catching expertise that are just starting to be invented, like the science of "finger marks."
The world of 'Murdoch' is populated with some wonderfully rich characters that make the experience even more enjoyable. Contrasting Murdoch's stoic demeanor is his boss, Inspector Brackenreid (Thomas Craig). Brackenreid is a brash man who is always a little too quick to call a case closed. With Murdoch on the force he should know that the case is never closed until Murdoch says it is. Brackenreid also finds himself in the middle of a somewhat controversial episode early on in the season. This being set in the 1890s, the public opinion about gay people was very different. Today's politically correct nature has no place in this time period, so Brackenreid is very forthcoming with his thoughts on the subject. Not only does 'Murdoch Mysteries' shine a light on early criminal-solving technologies, but it also takes time to discuss controversial aspects from everyday life and what those discussions would've been like so long ago.
Murdoch's right hand man is Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), who usually acts as comedic relief but does find ways to be useful. He's always the person who is there for Murdoch when he has to bounce ideas off of someone. Finally, rounding out the cast, is Murdoch's future love interest Dr. Julia Ogden (Helene Joy). While Murdoch professes a devout faith in the Catholic church, Dr. Ogden is his opposite in that respect. Her beliefs are strictly based in science.
Season one had some fun cameos from famous figures. I particularly liked one of the early episodes where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle turns up in Murdoch's town to investigate the claims of a local psychic. He hitches a ride on Murdoch's murder case once it becomes clear that the psychic is in the middle of the whole fiasco. It's fun to hear him mention his character Sherlock Holmes, but then dismiss him and say, "But, this is real life." Nikola Tesla also pops up in an episode to help Murdoch out after a woman is electrocuted at an Edison Electricity demonstration.
'Murdoch Mysteries' is an easily digestible period police procedural. There are some faint storylines that carry on through other episodes, for example we gradually find out about Murdoch's past and his now deceased wife, but most of the episodes stand-alone as a case-of-the-week exercises. That's fine though because the period piece gimmick, along with the variety of enjoyable characters, makes the show a very entertaining way to pass the time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Acorn Media release comes in a 3-disc set. Each disc is a 50GB Blu-ray Disc. They're packaged in a standard-sized Blu-ray keepcase with a swivel arm in the middle that holds two discs back-to-back. The release also comes with a cardboard slipcover which features the same art work as the case.
This time around, even though this is the first season, the video presentation seems to be a little better compared to its third season counterpart. The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks rather good here, displaying a rich amount of detail. Where the third season looked a little flat and dimensionless, here those things aren't really a problem. Shadows aren't nearly as crushingly gloomy as they were. Here shadows accentuate details, character and objects during lowly lit scenes.
The show does use silly looking paintings for setting shots. The paintings are of old 1890-style cities, towns and streets. They've greenscreened a few people into the paintings to look like they're walking around, but it looks laughable every time they use it. In HD it's even more pronounced. Colors are more solid this time around. Skintones look continually natural. Overall, it seems that Acorn is finding its footing as a Blu-ray producer and it shows that they're evolving their processes to produce much better products.
Sadly, the show is still provided with only a PCM 2.0 stereo mix. The third season's audio presentation was quite underwhelming. This one is too, although it seems like it's a little better mix all around. The show's theme music features quite a bit of low-end oomph even though the sub-woofer is out of commission by default. Dialogue is clearly intelligible throughout. We have no sense of immersion in the show, because the rear speakers aren't included, but the stereo mix here does seem a little more up to snuff this time around. It isn't the greatest though. It's serviceable, but if you're like me you'll see plenty of reasons why this show should've been afforded a surround mix.
With the television world full of serialized dramas it's nice to take a break and watch a simple but entertaining police procedural that mostly features stand-alone episodes. 'Murdoch Mysteries' is for anyone who likes to sit down and take in a few episodes of 'CSI' without thinking much, although the characters in here are much more interesting than those populating 'CSI.' With upgraded visuals and ever-so-slightly upgraded audio, it looks like this release is a definite must for fans and worth a look for anyone else who is remotely interested.