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Midsomer Murders: Series One

(BBC; US DVD: 30 Jul 2013)

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Midsomer Murders is one of the best detective television shows in the history of the medium. And by all means, it is the most suspenseful, enthralling, engaging, and thought provoking of the diverse police series currently available on cable and broadcast TV.


Produced in goody-old Great Britain, Midsomer Murders is based and inspired by the books written by Caroline Graham. Even though Graham only wrote seven novels that take place in the fictional English Midsomer County, to date the TV series consist of 95 episodes. Each episode lasts about 95 minutes, and they have been released over 15 annual seasons. The first episode was released back in 1997, and the engrossing series continue to attract viewers. Indeed, the 16th season is schedule to be broadcasted later this fall. 


After 16 years, the producers of Midsomer Murders have dogmatically followed the same formulaic structure that characterizes these series; that is, plain and simple, a well-constructed and thought provoking murder mystery that does not give a way the suspense of who is the evildoer. As such, there have been no dramatic changes to the visual or narrative structure of the series. Indeed, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 


However, in spite of being the same formula, the narratives don’t feel repetitive, and each episode invariable leads to a surprising finale. To understand and appreciate the convoluted plots, one needs to pay attention to details and think about the motivations and circumstances that surround the multiple characters. And such an incentive to reason, ponder, and ruminate is exactly why Midsomer Murders is so much fun to watch. 


In addition, the substantial running time of each episode gives them the advantage of being able to firmly establishing all the characters that play the intricate storyline. As such, character development is another strong point of Midsomer Murders. Indeed, half way through the episode, the viewer begins to care about the detectives, victims, victimizers, and other incidental characters. 


Therefore, character development and intelligent storytelling are the two ingredients that make of Midsomer Murders such a great detective show. And at the same time, these structural features signal the problems with other detective TV series. Indeed, just consider Criminal Minds and the CSI trilogy. More often than not, these shows reveal the identity of the evildoer in the first few minutes of each episode, killing all possible suspense that the story could have generated. Also, running at about 45 minutes each episode, there’s just not enough time to construct solid characters. As such each episode is about the detectives, and not much else. And finally, their storylines are so blatantly simple, to the point that exotic or improbable computer programs or scientific devices are usually the way the culprits are found.


Consequently, it’s admirable that Midsomer Murders has maintained such high quality standards, even though most of its episodes are not based on the literary works of Caroline Graham. Indeed, it’s only the first season that is entirely made of adaptations of Graham’s work. During the episodes that made the first season of Midsomer Murders, we are introduced to the cunning police Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby (John Nettles) and the young sergeant Gavin Troy (Daniel Casey). Through hard work, reasoning, and analysis, they are able to solve extremely convoluted murder mysteries. Never depending on technology, Barnaby and Troy constantly examine the suspicious alibis and possible motivations of the suspects.


But perhaps more intriguing is the fictional Midsomer County. As we learn throughout the series, Midsomer is made of several small towns. All of these have that distinctive British charm of tiny rural communities. But in spite of its architectural beauty, the crime rate of Midsomer County appears to be truly off the charts. Indeed, each episode features a relatively large body count. It is a rare occasion when Barnaby confronts a single murder. But then again, there are neither serial killers nor mass murderers in Midsomer County. Instead, very often the culprit keeps killing people in order to protect his identity as the murderer of the very first victim.


While greed is the main driving motivation for the murderers of Midsomer County, many other sinister feelings plague the characters of each episode. The first episode of the series, “The Killings of Badger’s Drift”, is a baleful tale of jealousy and incest (this episode also corresponds to the first Midsomer book published by Graham back in 1987). The second episode, “Written in Blood”, is about plagiarism and intolerance. And then, “Death in Disguise” touches on topics such as redemption and revenge. Madness and obsession are at the center stage of the fourth episode, “Death of a Hollow Man”. And finally, “Faithful unto Death”, revolves around disloyalty and adultery.


The first season of Midsomer Murders has been recently re-released on DVD by Acorn Media. These episodes have been previously available, but now they are being released in the original airing order. While the quality is on par with the previous edition, the new DVDs feature optional English subtitles, which can be helpful for the accent-challenged to better understand some characters.

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Marco Lanzagorta received a PhD in physics from Oxford University and has worked at prestigious research institutions in England, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico and the US. During the past 25 years, he has conducted research in physics, computer science, and neuroscience. Currently, Marco is a research physicist at a major defense research laboratory in Washington DC, and an affiliate associate professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.


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