DVD Review: Murdoch Mysteries, Seasons 11 & 12
By Chris Chan
(WARNING: Some oblique spoilers here.)
Murdoch Mysteries, the long-running Canadian period mystery-comedy series, is still going strong after twelve seasons. The series stars Yannick Bisson as William Murdoch, a police detective and scientist whose inventions are often ahead of their time. Joined by his wife, Dr. Julia Ogden (Helene Joy), his boss Inspector Thomas Brackenreid (Thomas Craig), and his friend and assistant Constable George Crabtree (Jonny Harris), Murdoch solves crimes in the early twentieth century, often running into famous historical figures along the way, such as Nikola Tesla, Alexander Graham Bell, Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, Charles Ponzi, Theodore Roosevelt, Frank Lloyd Wright, and others.
Overall, the series is terrific fun. It’s not striving for historical accuracy so much as riffing on the past to be entertaining. Unlike many long-running crime shows, Murdoch Mysteries has managed to keep creating inspired new whodunits that avoid obviousness and are almost always interesting.
Of course, part of the character of the series is that it riffs so often on classic works of popular culture. Sometimes this works brilliantly, such as in “The Accident.” It’s one of the series’ top three episodes yet, but it’s clearly inspired by a famous episode of Homicide: Life on the Street. The show brings its own spin to the premise of an injured man who must remain trapped at the scene of an accident or die, anchored by the terrific performance of David Hewlett as Dilton Dilbert, who took a character who could have been just a one-note scold in an earlier season, and made him lovable. In contrast, “Sir. Sir? Sir!!!,” a Halloween episode inspired by Invasion of the Body Snatchers, feels a bit off– a little note at the beginning explaining that the events are non-canonical, or a brief “it was all a dream” scene at the end would have made the intention of the episode clearer. As it is, it’s a disruption to the season-long narratives.
More and more, the series has drawn upon extended storylines, bringing back characters in unexpected ways, and adding obstacles to overcome. The extended fallout of a new addition to the Brackenreid family is particularly well-handled, and though Crabtree’s new love interest gives a strong performance, the longtime viewer has seen Crabtree get burned so many times before that it’s difficult to develop any emotional investment in the relationship.
There are a few aspects of the show that need improvement. Often the political subtext of certain episodes is ham-fisted, and there is a consistent disinterest in trying to explore why the people of the past acted and thought the way they did. Invariably, “modern” sensibilities are portrayed as virtues, and the complexities of and reasons for older or traditional viewpoints are smeared or otherwise obscured. In the early seasons, there was some elegance and insight in the portrait of Murdoch’s deep Catholic faith, but recent episodes, such as “Mary Wept” and “Six of the Best” lack nuance, dabble in negative stereotypes, and fail to illustrate just how important Murdoch’s religious upbringing was and is to him. Some of Bisson’s best acting comes from having his ideas and preconceptions challenged, but over the course of the series, Joy has been denied a comparable opportunity to flex her acting muscles by seeing Ogden’s very contemporary political/social opinions be similarly challenged. All too often, the atmosphere of the show is punctured by the narrative being interrupted by the people behind the show cheering on Ogden’s activism and editorializing. At times, the approval is so blatant that I half expect the camera to bob up and down, nodding in agreement. One of the best scenes in the twelfth season comes when a colleague of Ogden’s, who has previously expressed sexist views, saves her career by challenging her. Ogden has never been tested and confronted before like this, and the result is fully in character, and one hopes that the lessons learned by this scene will carry over into future seasons.
By far, the best new addition to the series has been Daniel Maslany as Detective Watts, a young detective with his own unique style to investigating. His performance is affably eccentric, and the little subtle details Maslany works into his performance make Watts great fun to watch.
As long as the show keeps using real-life characters in its narratives, I want to see future seasons introduce Horatio Robinson Storer, the doctor who saved millions of lives through his approach to gynecology, added into a storyline. Storer’s worldview would complement Murdoch’s and clash with Ogden’s, and it could be great television to see the real-life medical innovator Storer help the couple with their fertility issues. Also, the scientist Granville T. Woods, who has been dubbed “the Black Thomas Edison,” really must make an appearance as well. Please make a note, Murdoch Mysteries producers.
Murdoch Mysteries is currently airing its thirteenth season. I hope that many more seasons are ahead of it.
Murdoch Mysteries, Season 11
DVD & Blu-Ray $59.99
Murdoch Mysteries, Season 12
DVD & Blu-Ray $59.99