If you like your murder mystery shows light and breezy, then the 'Midsomer Murders' series is for you. The series has been running on ITV in Britain since 1997. The show follows Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and his younger partner Detective Sargent Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) as they investigate various murders and other nefarious goings-on in the rural towns of England.
I've reviewed other British detective shows like 'Poirot,' 'George Gently,' and 'Miss Marple' and I'd have to say that 'Midsomer Murders' ranks lower on the list. Probably down around 'Miss Marple' area. That's not to say the show isn't enjoyable, but there isn't much substance to it. It's like 'Law & Order'-lite, without all the courtroom drama.
The reason I like shows like 'Poirot' and 'George Gently' is that the lead detectives are interesting. They've been given quirks and backstories which help make them being relatable to the viewer. Hercule Poirot is an obsessive-compulsive ego maniac packed into a short gentlemanly package. George Gently is tortured by his past and his incessant do-the-right-thing attitude, even as internal police corruption builds around him. The 'Midsomer Murders' detectives simply don't have those kinds of rich character building blocks. They're paint-by-the number TV detectives, which are entertaining, but provide little more than cursory enjoyment when watching them. 'Poirot' and 'Gently' are primetime viewing, 'Midsomer Murders' is day time television.
DCI Tom Barnaby is a smart, older detective who really doesn't have many personality traits that stand out. He always has that look like he knows a lot more than he's letting on, but when it comes to an original personality he falls short. So does his partner, DS Ben Jones, who mainly serves as the comedic relief. He's made to do unwanted tasks by his superior partner, which usually end in him getting humiliated, dirty, or both.
This is the 19th set of the series. All the other sets have been released on DVD, but Acorn is finally swinging back around to bring them out on Blu-ray. Will they take the time to do all the sets that come before 19? I have no idea. That's a big proposition, but if the 'Poirot' series is any indication, Acorn seems committed to treating its shows right no matter their popularity.
Set 19 contains four episodes. The first two, "The Made-to-Measure Murders" and "The Sword of Guillaume," were my favorites out of the four. "Made-to-Measure" tells a murder mystery about a slew of killings that all center around the town's tailor shop. An enigmatic lord of the town, who owns everything, seems to be controlling everyone and it's up to Jones and Barnaby to find out how. The one thing that does separate 'Midsomer Murders' from other detective shows is its constant rural setting. Things work differently in small towns than they do in big cities. Barnaby and Jones soon find themselves embroiled in 1,000-year-old family feuds and archaic town politics which could only work in small secluded towns. It's the setting, not the characters, that makes 'Midsomer Murders' slightly unique.
The show isn't without its cheese factor though. The third episode in this set, "Blood on the Saddle," is about as corny as they come. A group of people in a small town reenact scenes from the American Wild West for fun. The episode soon devolves into a misguided dreamlike vision of the old west which becomes funnier as the episode continues.
The other thing holding this show back is that it's well rooted in its own formula, which calls for a complete replay of the mystery through flashbacks as Barnaby discusses what actually happened. These flashbacks are there solely in case we didn't get it the first time around. Like I said, there's not much substance here instead it's simply a breezy way to pass the time.
The mysteries are decent enough to keep your attention even though each episode is around 100 minutes each. Sometimes they feel like they are dragging through the middle in order to fill in time. They aren't perfect, but they know their audience. If this aired in America it'd be on CBS in the daytime. It's a perfect show for retirees.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Acorn Media has released 'Midsomer Murders: Set 19' in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with two 25GB Blu-ray Discs. Each disc contains two episodes each. There is an outer slipcover provided which has the exact same artwork as the Blu-ray case.
'Midsomer Murders' is presented in 1080i here. Compared to other Acorn releases, like 'George Gently' the 1080i here doesn't look nearly as good. Here we're dealing with flat depth and errant compression noise that seems to crop up every now and then.
Close ups feature fine detail, but the further back the camera pulls the more obscure and soft the detail becomes. Blacks and shadows are flat and feature no real dimension. In the "Made-to-Measure Murders" episode as the characters look out the kitchen window into the garden at night, the blacks take on that frustrating bluish hue.
I noticed noise every so often, especially on brickwork in Brighton during the episode "Sword of Guillaume". Aliasing and banding were also visible. Banding more so during fade-ins and -outs. Color is nice though. The greenery of the English countryside is lushly presented. Browns and grays of the town homes and cathedrals are rich and inviting. Stained glass windows, which are present in most of the episodes, feature a pop of bright, welcome colors for the viewer to enjoy. Considering that these episodes come from 2010 I thought that there was definitely room for improvement as far as the visuals were concerned.
Like many Acorn releases, 'Midsomer Murders' comes with a 2.0 Stereo PCM track, which while lossless, doesn't provide the engrossing surround sound experience that we've come to love from Blu-rays. Here we get a straightforward stereo mix that has decent directionality, but doesn't feature much of anything in the way of audio delights. Dialogue is produced well. The musical soundtrack sometimes drowns out the ambient sound but that's okay. When people talk off screen the directionality of the mix places them in either of the two speakers where they should be present. Again, like the other 2.0 PCM mixes we've gotten from Acorn, this one does what is asked of it, but leaves us wanting more.
There are no special features provided other than the extensive amount of Acorn previews that you have to go through to get to the main menu.
'Midsomer Murders' is worth a look if you're into British murder mysteries; just know there are quite a few other choices out there that offer more substance for your money than this show does. There's really no thinking involved on the viewer's part when watching these episodes, just sit back and watch Barnaby and Jones solve every crime that comes their way in textbook TV detective fashion.