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THE MIDSOMER MURDERS SERIES (2003-2005)

Director: Sarah Hellings, Richard Holthouse, Peter Smith, Baz Taylor, and others...

Writing by: Caroline Graham, Anthony Horowitz, David Hoskins, Jeremy Paul, and others...
(Based upon the books and characters of Caroline Graham)

Starring: John Nettles, Daniel Casey, Laura Howard, Jane Wymark

Producers: Brian True-May, Betty Willingale

Available on DVD
Distributed by: Acorn Media Publishing

Genre: Mystery/crime, comedy/drama

Long-running series in the UK (ITV).
Broadcast on A&E (cable) as two-hour episodes.
(On DVD each episode runs approximately 100 minutes.)

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

Set number five in this series was recently released (29 March, 2005) and for some reason, it contains the first five episodes produced. The set contains "The Killings at Badger's Drift," "Written in Blood," "Death of a Hollow Man," "Faithful Unto Death," and "Death in Disguise." (One easy way to tell them apart from later episodes is the length of Sgt. Troy's hair. In the early days -- sets #5 and #1 -- Sgt. Troy's hair is longer and curly on top. Later episodes find him with close-cropped hair.) Set #5 episodes are based on the books of Caroline Graham (same titles). The other episodes are based on the characters from her books.

I stumbled on this drama one weekend afternoon when the cable channel A&E was having a mini-marathon. I caught the last half of one episode and then sat through three more episodes. I was immediately drawn to the main characters and ordered all five sets the next day.

I enjoy British TV and mystery programs although I can't say that I am particularly drawn to English village cozies. The Midsomer Murders Series, however, is more than just a village cozy. It's like meeting with old friends at the local pub. Very enjoyable.

Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) is a good-natured cop. Not brilliant, but not dumb. He tends to get hold of a case and plods along until he figures it out, even as the body count continues to rise. He has a wife and daughter who figure into nearly every episode. He is assisted in his investigations by Sgt. Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey), a good-looking but young and inexperienced partner.

The actor portraying DCI Barnaby has described the series as a comedy/drama and indeed, humor is a much appreciated part of the story. For instance, one on-going humorous story line is that Inspector Barnaby's wife can't cook. Oh, she tries. She's always trying some dish that some famous chef has prepared, but her results leave Barnaby suggesting dinner out whenever possible. For his part, Barnaby is usually late for family matters because he becomes so engrossed in his cases. Sgt. Troy has trouble driving and Barnaby wonders aloud if he ever finished the defensive driving course. Sgt. Troy also has a problem with his attitude towards homosexuality. While some have criticized his responses, I think his paranoia has a humorous tone. I mean, there is usually at least one "poof" as he calls them, in each episode! And speaking of characters, "poofs" included, the supporting characters are so over the top as to be hysterically funny. If only country village life were really this much fun, except for the dead bodies, that is! One of the producers mentioned that the body count in Midsomer County is well over 100 now.

One of the aspects I like about this series is that the setting is the same, yet different, for each episode. The crimes occur within Midsomer County (a rough map is provided on each DVD), which is Barnaby's turf. He knows many of the residents, some families have been in residence for hundreds of years, and he knows some of their secrets. Still, there is plenty of room for more crimes. Burglaries, blackmail, and of course, murder...

Another aspect of this series that I enjoy is how the storyline frequently involves an unsolved murder from the past, which has usually been attributed to accidental death rather than murder. Barnaby and Troy come along, investigating the current murder, or crime, and realize that there is more to the case than just what presents itself now.

Fans of British TV will find that some of the residents of Midsomer County look familiar since popular character actors appear in guest starring roles, including Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers), Richard Briers (Monarch of the Glen), Gemma Jones (Bridget Jones's Diary), and Phyllida Law (Mrs. Bradley Mysteries), just to mention a few. It's refreshing to see familiar faces and old faces. I mean that literally. The citizens of Midsomer County, for the most part, are not pretty. Not like the city folk in their midst. The villagers are rugged, hard-working country folk and the actors chosen for those parts look like they've lived the country life.

You name the crime and someone in Midsomer County is probably at it. Not so sleepy, these villages. There is a bit more blood than one might expect from a cozy village story, but it is tastefully done, no really gory scenes or on-screen violence, except for a few punches and the deadly results of some of the attacks.

Fans of the Inspector Morse series will probably enjoy this series. Sherlock Holmes fans may also enjoy the commraderie and investigations of Barnaby and Troy, as will fans of cozy mysteries. Even people who generally don't like English village stories may find themselves hooked on the Midsomer Murders series.

You may not want to rush out and order all five sets at once, as I did, but once you begin viewing the episodes, I think you will want to continue viewing the rest of the series. If you are hesitant to order a complete set, try to catch one of the showings on cable TV (usually airing on weekends). Or purchase one of the individually sold episodes. Unfortunately, I could only find four individual episodes available on Amazon.com ("Death's Shadow," "Strangler's Wood," "Blood Will Out," and "Beyond the Grave") however, there are several other individual episodes available through A&E's online store.

It is not necessary to view the episodes in any specific order, although remember, set five is actually the first season or series, filmed.

The Midsomer Murders is a series that will delight for years to come. Each episode is so well crafted and filmed that repeated viewings do not diminish the joy of tagging along with DCI Barnaby and DS Troy.

It is my understanding that this series is still in production, in its ninth season (only five seasons are currently available on DVD), and that the character of Sgt. Troy (and the actor, of course) has been replaced by another character, Sgt. Dan Scott played by actor John Hopkins.