Saturday, November 12, 2011

Murder

There are few Wednesday nights I love as much as the ones of the murderous kind. Kick out shoes, lay back on the coach and let the victims fall. Mind you, that should be British victims, and preferably from the upper middle class. I'm talking about Midsomer Murders of course, that lovely ITV series that is wildly popular around the globe. But Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby retired. So, I hold my breath if his replacement can live up to the expectations.


Inspector Tom Barnaby(John Nettles)  and DS Ben Jones (Jason Hughes)

The British have a reputation when it comes to sophisticated murders. Only occasionally we see someone being finished with something as common as a bullet. Most victims are stabbed, hit by a heavy blunt object, strangled or suffocated. Poison is popular too, but that's how women take care of their business. But a vulgar and loud gun is very rare. And that is how it should be. And that's how the victims fall in Midomer Murders. I was not a Midsomer Murders fan from the beginning. I missed the first seasons this series, because I was simply not aware of it. When I saw my first episodes, DA Ben Jones was already Barnaby's third assistant. Meanwhile I've seen the early shows too, but I do think they are not as fine as the later ones. But John Nettles retired now, and let's be honest about, he was starting to look too old for a police detective in active service. He was a very agreeable person though, and we only have to wait how his cousin, who will replace him, can stand in his shoes. It was a kind of dues ex machina by the producers though, but I can understand they did not want to kill of such a money making series.

Tom Barnaby with wife Joyce (Jane Wymark) and daughter Cully (Laura Howard)

Midsomer Murders – there is nothing realistic about this series of course. Ever noticed how small the part of the forensics is? Oh yes, you see men and women in white suits walking around on the murder scene, and there is always the pathologist explaining with what size kitchen knife a victim was cut open. Barnaby and Jones always seem only to work together, sometime with the help of a female assistant, but that's about it. But it makes for a good story this way. Let's not bother the viewers with reality, because after all, that is not what we are longing for. That is not what I am waiting for anyway. I want to see the lavish green rural English countryside that consist only of small villages. We all want to live there. Big mistake however if you want to do so, because you are most likely to be killed. Or to be a killer. Reality set aside, we are guaranteed at least two corpses per episode, and if we are lucky we get three. The third is always an extra, for me usually after I finished my evening tea, a great beginning for the second half of the episode. Then it is time to focus on who is the villain in this nights show. We know that the murderer is usually an intelligent middle upper class person, slightly eccentric and always the one you'd expect the least to be. So, that's the way to pick 'm out. And even we that knowledge I always put my bets on the wrong suspect.

I'm very picky when it comes to British detective TV shows. I actually do not like most of them. In particular not the ones that try to be too realistic – Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren comes to mind. Or the ones where the detectives carry too much personal problems with them. I tried to watch the Inspector Lynley Mysteries, but that arrogant fellow with his problematic love life is just too distracting. And let's not forget his bland and neurotic female assistant Barbara Havers. Please, that name alone is enough to develop an instant dislike to the woman. I keep waiting for an episode where she is the victim, but alas. Give me Barnaby, his wife and daughter – a regular family without problems, that counterbalance the tragedies around them perfectly. However, I always thought it to be very suspicious that wherever Joyce Barnaby appears, be it in a choir or an amateur play group, someone around her will be killed. And strangely, she never was a suspect.

Long ago Inspector Dalgliesh was maybe the first British TV police detective that I'd liked to follow. Later, when I watched it again, I could not understand how I could ever have bared this guy. The slowness both in acting and in editing became so old fashioned, that the Dalgliesh episodes must have been burned meanwhile to prevent any further reruns. Which is good, because an audience that falls asleep is not good for ratings. Still, an old series does not necessarily have to mean that it is not worth looking anymore. One of the best is surely is BBC's adaption of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple with Joan Hickson. Truly excellent, every episode was shot as it was meant for a cinema showing.

Recently I have been watching the ITV series Lewis, and it is a worthy replacement for Midsomer Murders when that is not scheduled. Oxford is an appealing location, as much as the fictitious Midsomer county is. There might be just a little too many references to the private backgrounds of inspector Lewis and his assistant Hathaway, but you can't have it all. Middle class to upper middle class eccentric characters in abundance, and jealousy and frustration as underlying reason - just as I like it in a show like this. I learned that Lewis is a spinoff off the Inspector Morse series, but I regrettably never saw that one...

DS James Hathaway (Lawrence Fox) and inspector Robert Lewis (Kevin Whately)

So, what is wrong with us? I say 'us', because I am not the only one, with millions of viewers and followers of these series around the globe. Why can we relax watching ingenious murders? Is it a secret admiration for people who manage to get rid of people who are an obstacle to their well being? And while doing so, manage to look sophisticated and acceptable at that? Do we secretly wish we could shut off a part of our moral, live without scruples? Still, it's no use. Because in the end, intelligence does not help. They all get caught. And that's where these show differ from reality.