If this were American television, 'George Gently' (another great piece of British television distributed by Acorn Media) would be airing on FX while 'Midsomer Murders' would air on CBS. It's just that type of show. It fits the core programming of CBS perfectly. It's a detective series skewed toward an older audience. It's fairly easy-going, if not a little tongue-in-cheek, and lackadaisically goes through the paces of a police procedural.
The biggest announcement of 'Midsomer Murders: Set 20' is that this is the last time you'll see John Nettles playing the now famous Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby. The four mysteries contained on this set are Nettles' last episodes as the detective. His replacement, his cousin DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon), gets set to replace him in the very last episode. So, don't worry Barnaby fans, Tom Barnaby sticks around for the whole four episodes on this set before calling it quits.
Just like 'Set 19,' 'Set 20's episodes are fairly uneven when it comes to real quality storytelling. A couple of them come across really forced and slightly corny. "Master Class," which is the first episode, really stretches the limits of disbelief as it flies from one outrageous plot twist to the next. When the end comes some may be laughing, others may be throwing up a little in their mouths due to the conclusion that has been reached.
The second episode, "The Noble Art" also felt a little ham-fisted. Murders begin happening around the small town where the world's newest boxing champion resides. Detective Barnaby seems to always be in the right place at the wrong time, because wherever he goes people turn up dead. Here Barnaby goes to visit an old friend played by Kevin McNally, when people start mysteriously turning up dead. Good thing Barnaby's there to figure it all out.
The next two episodes were really well put together though. I enjoyed "Not in My Back Yard" which had plenty of gruesome deaths bolstered by a devious plan concocted by the suspect. It also features the strife that many rural English towns find with big business when people want to come in and modernize everything. In "Fit for Murder" we prep ourselves for Barnaby's departure, but we find ourselves learning a lot more about his past and his motivations than we ever have. It's a great episode that really lets us in on who Tom Barnaby really is and how he feels about his wife, his work, and his life.
There really isn't much meat to 'Midsomer Murders.' It doesn't go for strong drama like the 'George Gently' series. It, more or less, stays neutral. Playing out its detective tales as close to the formula as it can possibly get. John Nettles is entertaining as Barnaby, but doesn't have many distinguishing characteristics other than the snide comment here and there. He isn't eccentric or obsessive like many other fictional detectives. Instead he feels more like a regular Joe out solving crimes day by day.
Like I said, this is a pretty breezy show. You can get through the whole set in a few hours and after you do you'll feel like you just sat down and watched a mid-day 'CSI' marathon on TV. That's how innocuous this show feels. While it's enjoyable as you're watching it, the show itself doesn't really stick with you. It's a watch it and forget about it five minutes later kind of TV show. And that's okay, because that's what it's meant to be.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is an Acorn Media release. It comes on two 25GB Blu-ray Discs, with each disc containing two episodes (each episode is approximately 90 minutes long). The come in a standard sized keepcase with a slipcover provided.
'Set 20' for some reason, seemed a lot more detail and better looking than the video presentation for 'Set 19.' There was on episode in 'Set 19' that was full of wandering source noise, but that isn't a problem here. Presented in 1080i, the show looks a lot better this time around, but it still doesn't reach the level of high-def detail as the 'George Gently' series.
Another big change from this set from the last set is that shadows seem better delineated (crushing is almost non-existent) and blacks seem much darker than before. Because of these changes detail has been ramped up too. Even during darker scenes details in faces and textures can be easily discerned. The rich greenery of the English countryside plays backdrop to some nicely saturated colors.
I didn't notice any other anomalies, like banding or aliasing, that would detract from one's viewing experience. It's nice to see that 'Set 20' has improved upon the 'Set 19' release.
I don't know why Acorn has such a problem with labeling their discs right. This set is labeled as having a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track, but in reality it has a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. So, yeah, there's a big difference there.
Like so many of the other Acorn releases that come to Blu-ray the 2.0 track is a little disappoint seeing that these episodes were filmed just recently. There's no real reason why a surround track can't be easily put together. Anyway, the lossless stereo track does what it can. The theme music seems to be mixed a bit loud (especially on the menu), but everything else seems to be prioritized nicely. Dialogue is easy to hear. Directionality is a plus, although there are only two channels where voices can be placed. Even so voices seem to be presented relative to where the actor is in the frame. There's just nothing that would stand out in this audio presentation. It's clear, for the most part, and does its job relatively well. That's about all you could ask I guess.
'Midsomer Murders' is comparable to the feel of another Acorn Media show, 'Murdoch Mysteries .' It's a simple, formulaic police procedural that still retains a bit of charm that makes it watchable. I thought this season was better than 'Set 19' simply because we were finally let in on the inner workings of Barnaby's personality and past life. I'd lightly recommend it to anyone looking for a decent detective show that they don't have to think too much about.