It was tough seeing old Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) go in the episode from 'Midsomer Murders: Set 20,' "Fit for Murder." Nettles had been with the show so long and I had gotten so used to his mannerisms and demeanor that it was hard imagining anyone else taking over the role of Midsomer Detective Chief Inspector.
Tom Barnaby had an infectious, dry sense of humor, which became endearing over time. In "Fit for Murder" we finally got an introspective look at his character, what kind of checkered past he had been living with, and we were forced to abandon him and take on a brand new guy. It's a good thing that new guy John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon), is just as amusing.
John Barnaby is Tom's cousin. He moves to Midsomer to take over after Tom retires. Murder doesn't waste any time though, as people start getting knocked off left and right in the small townships surrounding Midsomer. The new Barnaby is thrown right into the blood-splattered swing of things.
Keeping some constant from the previous season is Detective Sergeant Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) who finds that working with John can be just as frustrating as working with Tom. Only John is much more snarky than his cousin ever was. It seems like Jones gets picked on quite a bit more in this season than in the past.
This set has four, 90-minute episodes. That's what I like about 'Midsomer Murders.' It's a standard detective procedural, but the feature-length episodes give them time to flesh out a story and its characters.
The first episode, "Death in the Slow Lane," takes on this season's favorite subject (honestly, it turns up on more than one occasion) incest. Yeah, I was surprised too. I've always thought of 'Midsomer Murders' being a show that was geared toward the same type of demographic that watches CBS non-stop. Anyway, the first episode – and the other episodes follow suit – builds a large-scale small-town conspiracy centered around a 40-year-old murder.
Usually, that's how an episode of 'Midsomer Murders' goes. Barnaby and Jones are called into a tiny country village where everyone knows everyone. They're completely flabbergasted that there's a killer in their midst, but all of them are holding at least one piece to the puzzle. Much like the ending to most 'Poirot' episodes, 'Midsomer Murders' usually ends with Barnaby piecing together the entire mystery after he's gathered everyone around to listen to his explanation.
If you dig police procedurals and don't mind a little redundancy, 'Midsomer Murders' is a show to check out. Especially if you like the way British television treats their shows. The extended runtime really gives the writers time to develop one-off characters. Story arcs rarely seemed hurried because the ending is approaching. Often times the endings do feel a little too neat and tidy, but I think we've all come to expect that from straight-forward procedurals.
It isn't a transcendent cop show by any means. Instead it's an easy way to kill a few hours while watching some entertaining characters solving complexly constructed murders.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Acorn Media release comes to Blu-ray on two 25GB Blu-rays. They each have two episodes on them. They've been packaged in a standard keepcase.
I feel like we've stepped down in the case of visual quality here. I gave 'Set 20's 1080i presentation four stars. 'Set 21' doesn't live up to that standard. Where the previous release was detailed and crisp, this release is gauzy and soft. It isn't a catastrophe by any means, but there's no way it measures up to the previous release.
The first thing you might notice about the image contained on 'Set 21' is the lack of depth. Shadows don't provide any sort of dimension to the picture. Skin tone seems anemic, especially when shadows cross over faces. The entire image just looks flat and old.
When the camera zooms in close facial and textual details look great. Mid-range shots are another story. Detail quickly fades and gives way to a hazy quality that wasn't on the last season. Colors, like the greens and browns of the English countryside appear to be strong though, so that's a plus. Black levels waver, and they end up harboring quite a bit of needless noise. For whatever reason 'Set 21' is a lot less impressive than 'Set 20' which is a shame.
The set has been graced with another DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix. I've become accustomed to these stereo mixes on Acorn releases, even though these newer shows really should be accompanied by surround sound mixes. Still, the lossless mix here does exactly what it should.
We've got clear and centered dialogue. Directionality works nicely as sound effects and dialogue happen out of frame. The show's music occasionally has a drowning effect on dialogue. It isn't that big of a problem though. Low-end frequencies are surprisingly resonant though. Gunshots and sledgehammers knocking down doors are just a few instances where the low-end sounds shine on this mix.
While I do wish that Acorn would start providing lossless 5.1 tracks, these stereo tracks are acceptable if just a tad bit unsatisfying.
There are no special features included.
It isn't my favorite British TV show, but 'Midsomer Murders' makes for some easy-going viewing if you're ever in the mood for a decent detective show. If you really want superb British cop drama, try 'George Gently,' if you're just looking for an easily digestible, entertaining show then I'd definitely recommend 'Midsomer Murders.' It's just too bad that the video quality seems to have taken a step in the wrong direction.