2006, Granada Television.
Total running time: 275 minutes.
Series created by Cath Staincliffe.
Written by John Fay, Cath Staincliffe, Colin MacDonald, Jeff Povey, Roy Mitchell.
Directed by Suri Krishnamma, Menhaj Huda.
Cast: Caroline Quentin, Ian Kelsey, Saskia Wickham, Paul Loughran, Nicholas Murchie.
DVD continues to be the only place American viewers can see "Blue Murder," a British police detective series that no U.S. TV programmer has seen fit to import. Could be they fear the characters' thick Manchester accents would prove too daunting, but that doesn't hold water given the success here of that earlier hit series with a star who speaks in a strong regional brogue, "The Osbournes." Fortunately, Acorn Media has included optional closed-captioning on this new double-disc set to aid uninitiated ears.
Part "CSI," part "Inspector Morse" and part "Saving Grace" (the new cable series with Holly Hunter), "Blue Murder" presents heartfelt whodunits centered on flawed people and believable situations. Comedienne Caroline Quentin stars as Detective Chief Inspector Janine Lewis, a stout woman with four kids and an estranged but still-there husband who comes to the rescue when late-night phone calls summon her away from home and to crime scenes. Ian Kelsey returns as Detective Inspector Richard Mayne, Janine's tall, dark and handsome professional partner -- and occasional shoulder to cry on. Their personal history, more fully explored in the first "Blue Murder" set, is only hinted at in these new episodes.
Janine has a new, hard-driving female boss (Saskia Wickham), but otherwise it's business as usual. Janine's two main field detectives, Shap (Nicholas Murchie) and Butchers (Paul Loughran), do a lot of the groundwork on the various cases, with the gray, snakelike Shap constantly getting in digs at the chubby, redheaded Butchers. There is comedy in "Blue Murder," but what makes the series notable, beyond its thrilling and perplexing mysteries, is the emotional punch it often packs. Unlike "CSI," none of the characters here are so cool that they can't be overwhelmed by the tragic crimes they investigate.
The four 70-minute mysteries in this set (presented in a different order from which they were originally aired in the U.K. in October and November of 2006) are:
The Spartacus Thing A wife killer recently released from prison meets his fate violently, and his former father-in-law is the chief suspect -- that is, until about a dozen friends and family members each "confess" to the crime. The wonderful Tom Bell, always a provider of strong English accents, plays the distraught, drunken father of the dead wife, and you'll definitely want to turn on the closed-captioning when he's slurring out his lines.
Make Believe A 3-year-old boy is snatched from a playground, and days later a little body is found in a sewer. Janine and her team grill a slew of suspects in this terrific episode containing convincing red herrings and a tear-inducing climax.
In Deep The skeletal remains of a young thug are discovered at the bottom of a lake and Janine & Co. come to believe the guilty party is one or more of a group of old college buddies who used to go on periodic fishing trips. Watch this one twice to see how subtly the clues are laced into the narrative.
Steady Eddie Poor old copper Eddie Carter happens upon a 14-year-old hit-and-run victim one night, and despite his mouth-to-mouth ministrations she dies. A couple of robbers making their speedy getaway are at fault, but there's much more going on than a simple heist turned deadly.
Besides the helpful closed-captioning, there's not much accompanying the episodes. You get written interviews with stars Caroline Quentin and Ian Kelsey, but the very general questions and answers seem to be directed to viewers who haven't yet watched the shows. There are also simple filmographies listed for the stars and recurring cast members.
The episodes themselves look good, however, with the unadorned views of gritty Manchester and surrounding areas providing a refreshing change from the rolling-hills norm of British Heritage TV. The rich-looking picture is presented in 16:9 widescreen. The Dolby stereo sound is vivid, with background sounds such as radio chatter seeming to emanate from discrete spaces realistically distanced from the center of the action.
The two discs (packaged in slim cases slipped into a colorful cardboard box resembling Series 1's) have the most basic of menus. There are ample chapter selections, but it's fairly unlikely that anyone will want to interrupt the action once they start watching any of these tales.
"Blue Murder, Set 2" includes just four mystery stories, but they're all winners -- and they may even be more compelling than the series' impressive previous episodes. Caroline Quentin and Ian Kelsey, as the two main police detectives, are comfortably settled into their roles, as are all the supporting players, but there's nothing lazy or laid-back about these emotionally potent policiers. While the DVD set is a fairly perfunctory production, fans of British mysteries will want to check it out, especially since the series has had no U.S. television exposure. Three new "Blue Murder" installments just aired in December and will hopefully come to disc soon.